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Harry Potter And The Cursed Child At The Palace Theatre, London: Is It Worth It?

1 May, 2017

After seeing this a few days ago, I am going to do my best to tell you everything you need to know about this (hopefully!) to make up your mind whether it is worth your time and money to make the pilgrimage to see it down at the Palace Theatre in London.

By all means don’t take mine as gospel, there are other views equally as valid or invalid, go read them too if you desire.

The Plot

Here is my attempt at a very brief summary of the important parts: it’s not going to spoil anything as it certainly falls perfectly in line with all other Harry Potter stories (official and otherwise) of being a rehash of old popular story tropes, nothing original, groundbreaking, but enjoyable nontheless.

Starting back on that same platform where Deathly Hallows ended, Albus Severus Potter becomes friends (to everybody’s horror) with Scorpius Malfoy, luckily for Albus as the Sorting Hat (apparantly recovered from being burnt to a crisp by Voldemort whilst sitting on Neville Longbottom’s head) shoves him in Slytherin. Both have a miserable time at the hands of the other students over the next few years, Albus from being the new Neville Longbottom when it comes to be crap at everything, and Scorpius due to malicious gossip that he’s Voldemort’s son (the Malfoy family, despite walking away from the Battle of Hogwarts, remain pariahs) but mainly from being the school geek. For both boys, this causes friction increasingly with their fathers.

Determined to prove to everyone they’re not quite the losers everyone paints them to be, after overhearing Harry refuse the request of the slowly dying wheelchair bound Amos Diggory (now stuck in a granny farm for witches and wizards) to use a recently discovered Time Turner (seized from unrepentent Death Eater Theodore Nott) to prevent Cedric Diggory’s death at the Triwizard’s Tournament, they get the idea of stealing the Time Turner and putting matters right themselves. In their quest, they are aided by the chirpy Delphi Diggory, Amos’s niece, who works at the granny farm and exists so it appears merely to wheel her unpleasant bitter uncle around.

Yes, those of you who have saw the ‘Timeslides’ (the one with the Tension Sheet and Thickie Holden) episode of Red Dwarf know what’s all coming next. Om!

At around the same time, Harry’s scar begins to hurt again, resulting in tensions between him, Headmistress McGonagall of Hogwarts, and Draco Malfoy – whose concern for his son’s welfare has increased upon his mother Astoria Greengrass’ untimely death as Harry obsesses over keeping the two Slytherin friends apart.

They are completely unaware the duo is now a trio, with Scorpius suspecting Albus’ interests in Delphi being carnal as well as on a point of principle (he in turn has a comic unrequited crush on Rose Granger-Weasley, whose loathes the more he loves has less to do with principle too and more to do with the child of Hermione Granger can’t take being second best to the child of a Malfoy as the year’s cleverest student, a matter Scorpius holds complete indifference to, loving learning for learning’s sake rather than out of any superiority complex).

One bottle of Polyjuice Potion and a visit to the Ministry of Magic later (and a near comic rerun of the events of Deathly Hallows), they pinch the Time Turner, travel back to the Triwizard Tournament and several pieces of meddling with the timeline later, succeed in preventing anyone other than Harry making the fateful Portkey trip to face Voldypoos.

Tip for all future time travellers. If you come back from the past to find this symbol all over the place, please return back to your time travel device in an orderly manner and undo everything you did in the previous time visited without delay. Thank you.

When Scorpius returns to the present day however, Albus is not with him, and Scorpius finds himself in a world where an embittered Cedric Diggory (never getting over his humiliation in the Tri-Wizard Tournament) joined the Death Eaters, killed Neville Longbottom before he could kill Nagini, thus allowing Voldemort and his Death Eaters to win the Battle of Hogwarts – and thus control of the wizarding world.

In the new timeline, Scorpius discovers he is Head Boy, a star Quidditch player, and everything his father ever wanted him to be. However, in this reality (where the Ministry of Magic resembles the Third Reich), Draco Malfoy as Head of Magical Law Enforcement (which encourages all manner of harm on ‘mudbloods’ and ‘undesireables’) shows the strain when he discovers his son appears to have flipped overnight and when called in to explain his erratic behaviour has his own conscience read right back to him by a horrified Scorpius, showing once more that family means more to the Malfoys than Voldemort.

Some near misses with Dementors and mucking around with the Time Turner later, Scorpius puts everything back to exactly the way it was before – restoring Albus, but being caught by their parents and the Ministry in the process. Scorpius lies that the Time Turner was destroyed, in reality he wants him and Albus to destroy it because they know if they hand it back to the Ministry they’ll keep it again ‘just in case’.

Delphi reappears and tries to persuade them all to have another go. Matters go very wrong when Scorpius realises out loud that the Minister for Magic in the Voldemort led world was Delphi – at roughly the same time Harry, Ginny, Draco and Ron discover that Amos Diggory was under the Confundus Curse and never had a niece called Delphi. Delphi is really Delphi Lestrange, the illegitimate daughter of Voldemort and Bellatrix.

Again, cutting a long story short, Delphi (with Albus and Scorpius her prisoners) decides the only way to prevent Voldemort’s fall is to go back to the very beginning, and stop him from trying to kill baby Harry Potter (an idea rather like the Doctor Who episode ‘City Of Death’there’s also a part from the later Doctor Who episode ‘Blink’, but you can find that bit out yourselves). Their parents turn up in the nick of time to stop Delphi (who gets a one way ticket to Azkaban), and all are forced to watch Voldemort murder Harry’s parents again before blasting himself to smithereens trying to kill baby Harry.

Everyone returns back to the present, better and wiser people, living happily ever after and all that bullshit.

The Play

‘Keep The Secrets’?

When you’re merrily charging up to two hundred quid premium to watch the show whilst accusing others of shameless profiteering?

Um, up yours Rowling and the golden broomstick you rode in on!

Contrary to what you may here or read elsewhere, none of the stagecraft is particularly original. Some of the clever magical stunts – whilst very impressive and enjoyable – are nothing new, as anyone that’s observed a modern stage magician will know. It does pack in a lot of them over the five hours, and the costume changes, Floo Network, Ministry of Magic telephone box, wands and various others are very good.

Some aren’t so good – the talking books in Hermione’s room where you can clearly see the hands operating them are terrible, and Bane the Centaur should have been left out completely – not only do his lines add nothing to the plot, but he is the worst pantomime horse (or rather half-horse) since the legendary Dobbin from Rentaghost (as namechecked in Half Blood Prince by a drunken Trelawney).

There are also places where they have been downright lazy. The Hogwarts train is down to utilisation of the students packing cases and the audiences imagination – something lifted straight from the theatre version of The Woman In Black down at the Fortune Theatre. But the latter play relies on being barebones as part of the plot, when you are selling tickets for what some people earn in a week on the basis of how spectacular the effects are, you have every right to feel a touch cheated.

For how this should have been done, please see Bjork’s interchangeable train for the stage play in her ‘Batchelorette’ video.

But the Dementors!

Oh, they are everything the film versions were not – and more!

Completely brilliant, utterly enthralling, and the terrified screams from those sitting in the ‘Gods’ seats when one of them paid them a visit during the show brought the house down. One of the major highlights of the show.

A dog’s dinner-dinner, dinner-dinner, dinner-dinner, dinner-dinner Batman.

Which is more than can be said for the half-arsed choreography routines. The constant swoopy-whooping around like it is Batman The Musical got wearing after a while. At least there wasn’t a song, but I bet they were tempted.

The actual plotline itself I dealt with in part last year – see here – and plenty of others especially in the Potterhead forums have done this topic to death. There’s a host of annoyances that could be brought up but there’s one in particular that needs to be raised and nailed: why would Harry’s scar be hurting him now when the only reason it did was via the long destroyed Horcrux within him transmitting any of Mouldy Voldy’s rages? It certainly cannot be due to Voldemort’s daughter – she’s been around since at least a year before the Battle of Hogwarts.

‘The Black Hermione’ controversy – does it affect the play?

Probably the biggest row about ‘The Cursed Child’ other than the pricing has been the ‘Black Hermione’ one. Rowling’s feeble excuse (with much moralistic finger wagging) was Hermione’s race was never specified in the books – a complete inversion of the point that she made damned bloody sure in the books her readers knew whenever her characters were not white!

From Sorcerer’s Stone (nb. not Philosopher’s Stone)

‘And now there were only three people left to be sorted. “Thomas, Dean,” a black boy even taller than Ron, joined Harry at the Gryffindor table’

From Goblet of Fire

‘A tall black girl who played Chaser on the Gryffindor Quidditch team, Angelina [Johnson] came over to them…’

From Order of The Phoenix:

‘And this is Kingsley Shacklebolt.’ He indicated the tall black wizard, who bowed.’

From Order of The Phoenix:

‘Before Hermione could answer, a tall black girl with long braided hair had marched up to Harry.

“Hi, Angelina [Johnson].”

“Hi,” she said briskly, “good summer?” And without waiting for an answer, “Listen, I’ve been made Gryffindor Quidditch Captain.”

“Nice one,” said Harry, grinning at her.’

From Order of The Phoenix:

‘Harry glanced around at their fellow guests. He recognized a Slytherin from their year, a tall black boy with high cheekbones and long, slanting eyes; there were also two seventh-year boys Harry did not know and, squashed in the corner beside Slughorn and looking as though she was not entirely sure how she had got there, Ginny.

“Now, do you know everyone?” Slughorn asked Harry and Neville. “Blaise Zabini is in your year, of course—”

Zabini did not make any sign of recognition or greeting, nor did Harry or Neville: Gryffindor and Slytherin students loathed each other on principle.’

Also, she did confirm Hermione’s race in the books – and this time she can’t rewrite history to suit herself:

From Prisoner Of Azkaban:

‘Harry tugged harder on the rope around Buckbeak’s neck. The Hippogriff began to walk, rustling its wings irritably. They were still ten feet away from the forest, in plain view of Hagrid’s back door. “One moment, please, Macnair,” came Dumbledore’s voice. “You need to sign too.” The footsteps stopped. Harry heaved on the rope. Buckbeak snapped his beak and walked a little faster.

Hermione’s white face was sticking out from behind a tree.

“Harry, hurry!” she mouthed.’

This of course isn’t the first time Rowling’s tampered with characters after the fact for real world expediency. We had the ‘gay Dumbledore’ farce (which famously generated confusion in Tom Felton in an interview hours after the ‘announcement’) to deflect loaded questions on her first U.S. book tour about the lack of gay characters – and despite the fact in the very first chapter of the very first book it is apparent there’s some smouldering sexual tension between Dumbledore and Madame Pomfrey:

‘It’s lucky it’s dark. I haven’t blushed so much since Madame Pomfrey told me she liked my new earmuffs.’

But there is a particular resonance to this being done to Hermione. Since the Goblet Of Fire movie, there’s been complaints that J. K. Rowling was rewriting this character and interfering with the movie scripts to over-inflate Hermione’s role, the suggestion being she was not merely reliving but rewriting her awkward unpopular teenage years through her literary creation, at the expense of character development and story structure.

But does this latest tinkering jar in the play? YES!

Why is Hermione the only recurring character in Cursed Child who changes race? If it’s really not that much of a biggie doing so, why do all of the other characters stay true to their general physical characteristics in the previous books and films? If she wanted to make a statement, why not juggle the whole damn lot? This is London after all, where The Black Mikado made household names of Derek Griffiths, Floella Benjamin, Norman ‘Desmond’ Beaton and not forgetting Pattie Boulaye ( adoobeedoobeedoobeedoobeedoobeedoobeedoobeedowah! )

It’s pretty hard to resist the conclusion it’s yet another ham-fisted piece of virtue-signalling from Rowling instigated slap bang in the middle of last year’s Black Lives Matter fad. With the cast due to change over this summer, don’t be too surprised if the next Hermione is a transgender Syrian refugee user of mental health services. Or whatever special interest group is this summer’s hip cause amongst the Guardianistas.

(You will look in vain, incidentally, for even one South or Oriental Asian in the play. Just saying…)

This latest meddling with Potterverse canon is the final confirmation to many that J. K. Rowling will prostitute almost anything in the series for either a quick buck or a few real world brownie points from politicians, the Fourth Estate, fellow luvvielanders, or anyone else she feels is important and wants to be in their gang. Or at least stay in the first class compartment on the train of relevance.

The Cast

Let’s be brutal about this – they’re a curate’s egg.

One major complaint throughout the show is periods where the cast hurry or mumble lines so you could not hear the dialogue properly. I was in row C of the Dress Circle (first floor), so it certainly wasn’t down to the acoustics. The films got away with cutting corners because everyone knew the books by heart for years anyway. This is new territory, and this time there can be no excuses for failing to have a sympathy for the audience.

Jamie Parker, Sam Clemmett and Poppy Miller do well enough as Harry, Albus and Ginny respectively – Poppy Miller is one of the best and most believable of the cast. Clemmett does his best with a difficult role, certainly he makes Albus a far more sympathetic character than the dry script suggests.

Might have known you’d have trouble with the Malfoys!

Scorpius as mentioned before has without any shadow of a doubt the best dialogue and best scenes of the whole play – if only they’d let him. In many ways, by accident rather than design, this is Scorpius’ story more than anyone else’s. But despite the numerous awards Anthony Boyle has collected for the role, all too often he spoils matters with a switch to a silly voice like the token funny character from a cheap Hanna Barbera cartoon. It’s unnecessary and detracts from the show where he has some of the major sidesplitting pieces of dialogue. When he’s speaking normally, the serious lines (especially when telling Albus and Draco some home truths) are knockouts, and the way he sounded so scandalised at the notion of anyone else doing his homework for him was a rare moment of hysteria in one of the darkest parts of the show.

As for Alex Price’s Draco Malfoy, you’d be forgiven for wondering whether this is someone using Polyjuice potion. This Draco is having to live down the utter disgrace of his family, the death of his wife and his only child suffering thanks from the sins of the father and grandfather at Hogwarts – and yet if there was a Minister of Magic election tomorrow he’d easily be the best candidate. Calm and collected in a crisis, just about the only adult character apart from Ginny who appears trustworthy enough to sort out anything more complex than the pairing of socks, the former sneering spoilt brat turned into every single role Charles Dance has ever played – whilst cute – raises an eyebrow.

At one stage he even gets involved in a dual with Harry appearing less angry than having the time of his life – when he made the clichéd fight scene long-time villain vs long-time hero rejoinders of ‘keep up old man’ and ‘that the best you’ve got?’, I was half expecting him to declare he wasn’t Draco Malfoy at all but Basil Rathbone.

Finally the Granger-Weasleys. Paul Thornley’s Ron is there for comic relief and little else. The supreme irony of casting Noma Dumezweni as Hermione Granger is she plays the role too often as if she was trying (badly) to impersonate Kingsley ‘The Fridge’ Shacklebolt’ – really they may as well have that character in the play as Minister for Magic and had Hermione doing something else instead – and her ‘modern mum trying to have it all, family and career’ schtick is a bore when we’re already getting the same slice of the humdrum from the Potters.

Thank Merlin’s pants for Cherrelle Skeete as Rose and the back in time Hermione. Her main character like Scorpius is far from a chip off the old block, a touch manic, fitted hand in glove with Albus and Scorpius, and did what little contribution she gets to the show down to a fine pat – she’s the one member of the cast so clearly underutilised for her talents (she’s also one of the few that could actually dance!).

 

Of the rest of the cast, special mentions for two holding down two roles apiece: first Sandy McDade’s faultless Headmistress Minerva McGonagall (a perfect port of Maggie Smith’s) along with the psychotic Hogwart’s Express Sweets Trolley lady.

Secondly, Annabel Baldwin’s hilariously saucy Moaning Myrtle Warren (Potter, Diggory and Malfoy’s bathroom antics two decades earlier it seems caused her to flip into a raving nymphomanic ever since) along with her later poignant Lily Evans Potter. Her moments with equally doomed husband James and baby Harry watched by Albus and Scorpius there to seal the happy family’s doom, are truly touching moments.

Finally there’s Esther Smith as Delphi Diggory, who is jaunty, likeable and gels well with Boyle and Clemmett. She comes across better in the earlier part of the show before her true colours are revealed: as a villainess it appears too laboured, and the silly bird outfit they have her flying about in later during the final battle (which looks like a cast off from an early Fields of The Nephilim video) doesn’t help. To be truthful, the whole final climatic battle scene is one of the weakest moments of the whole show, and one of the strongest cases for a need for the show to undergo some pruning and cutting before it takes to the road (you could do The Cursed Child in three brilliant filler free hours plus one interval and have a production tight as a tick).

Buying the tickets

Thanks to a very effective media disinformation campaign, most believe you can only get tickets in advance for the shows via the website. With blocks of advance tickets being ‘released’ six months in advance, this has left a very healthy black market for ticket touting, and the reports of people paying thousands for tickets are not exaggerated.

But beware – anyone who buys tickets from anywhere apart from Nimax or ATG online, or directly from Palace Theatre London’s Box Office on Shaftsbury Avenue, risks having their precious golden tickets annulled and the seats resold via the website or the box office.

The first those unfortunate people will discover this is when they go there and either find someone in their seats or someone coming along and demanding they move out of theirs. Down come the Palace staff, and soon after the security guards to persuade you to leave with the minimum of fuss (if you know what’s good for you). This to be fair is once every moon of gobbags – most buying tickets for dishonest purposes are singleton skeets trying to make a quick killing selling them on rather than being part of any organised touting – but all the same the tickets are expensive enough without going down this route. It is only a play.

I acquired my tickets through the weekly block of resales which come in three guises. In essence there is no difference as to how these tickets come back into circulation having been sold once before – they are made up from a combination of seats being bought by resellers (‘touts’) being put back out for sale and those seats which have gone unsold via the website, which are more substantial than you may imagine or that those behind the show would want you to know (the main cause being those tickets secretly reserved for sale only to those also buying hotel accommodation at the same time, which appears to backfire a lot).

The first is the so-called Premium seats. They are put on sale at once on the website, appearing at all manner of times, on a first come, first served basis, for a rip-off £99.50 per part (remember the play is in two parts).

The second is the so-called Friday Forty (as opposed to the Founding Fifteen, but this concerns Death Eaters, not Granny Eaters):

‘Every Friday at 1pm we release 40 tickets for every performance the following week, for some of the very best seats in the theatre, at an amazingly low price.’

‘Amazingly low price’ in comparison to the usual ticket price, that is.

If you are not a regular theatre goer, you will remain in innocent bliss of the ‘amazingly low price’ being merely the box office standard for any decent theatre’s tickets – the current £30 and upwards rip off that is now the industry standard as almost every theatre is owned by a private company such as ATG or Nimax – the latter being the owners of the Palace Theatre.

To give you an inkling what these skeets are doing to the theatre industry, in the last twelve months there’s been a £5 increase in ticket prices across much of the British Isles box offices – nothing to do with Brexit, ‘the living wage’ or any of the other excuses, but simply that Britain’s Luvvilanders like J.K. Rowling, David Walliams and so on have decided that ‘writing plays’ is what ‘clever people do’ inbetween their next intimate memoir in a broadsheet newspaper supplement or mundane novel aimed at ‘grown ups’.

The roar of the greasepaint and the smell of the crowd is ‘in’ amongst the mediums of the kulturgeist, and the strijdkreet amongst the Guardianistas is that the moronic multitudes – for The Common Good – need to be coaxed away from their television soaps (‘tsch!’) and computers (‘meh!’) back to the highbrow world of the theatre those same Secret Masters of the Zeitgeist (or Smozzers for short) did their best to drive away with complaints about councils and central government should not be funding their ‘dumbing down’ to begin with: inflated ticket prices to watch pretentious offal performed by second rate hacks or and incurable alcoholics doing the rest.

Theatre is ‘in’ – and devil take the hindmost (stage left, pursued by a bear) when this army of Esmé Squalors – for whom the Fourth Estate is their blogpage – and their passing fascination with emulating The Bard fades.

Grumbling over.

The third guise? Going to the box office at Shaftesbury Avenue on the day you are interested before one o’clock (on the left hand side of the theatre, rather than the side across from the two dreadful public houses making enough noise to wake the dead). You will pay the standard prices. It’s a lottery, but after seeing four people buy tickets ahead of me as I waited patiently to collect mine bought online – and overhearing the mancake behind one counter say there were plenty left in all but the stalls (which you don’t want anyway) – my advice is it is worth the gamble. If it doesn’t come off, try again another time.

The pricing is certainly a major gripe and Rowling really ought to be downright ashamed of herself. Yes, the cast are having to put in a five hour shift some nights, but name any other theatre play with such a mammoth amount of supplementary merchandising inside to boost the final net profits – indeed items which in some cases can only be bought by going to the play, enough perhaps to sway some Potterheads not entirely convinced the show is ‘canon’ to relashio some more galleons, sickles and knuts from their piggy banks on a pair of tickets.

If you live in London, don’t bother getting the tickets online at all – chance your arm if passing by and you will get lucky sooner rather than later.  You can visit the box office between Monday and Saturday, ten until seven.

(Was I cross about discovering this final option? As cross as Snape with Lupin when he suspected Potter had got another precious piece of parchment ‘straight from the manufacturers’!

Regarding food and drink options surrounding the Palace Theatre, take my advice and steer clear. Most of them are too noisy, too expensive, and being on the major commuting route of Charing Cross Road (the famous No.84 directly across from the theatre is now a McDonalds. Is nothing sacred?) they know they can piss off as many customers as they want as there’s plenty of transient trade to take their place tomorrow. Save your money for somewhere in the centre of town later or Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club around the corner (expensive, but worth it for the best real jazz anywhere in Britain and packed every night with real fans of the genre).

Oh, don’t attempt to buy food or drink in the Palace Theatre during the intervals. Not unless you have a Time Turner yourself – you’ll need one.

Tickets and Hotel packages

ATG in particular will try to lure you into tying in your ticket purchase with buying hotel accommodation through ‘approved’ hotels, as you may have guessed ones having trouble selling accommodation for a good reason and looking for those who aren’t too fussed about one-night’s roof over their head so long as the room is warm and next morning’s breakfast. Don’t do this. You will save yourself both value for money and potential misery doing it separately.

In London, always go through your hotel choices with a fine toothcomb because a bad hotel will really ruin your stay with bedbugs, sickness, diarrhoea, burglary of your room, or worse. There are too many hotels competing for too few customers, and those particularly at the bottom end of the scale aren’t fussed about being outright dishonest – leave the ‘slumming’ part of your trip to the cafes or pubs you visit (some marvellous, some malevolent). Being unable to buy one or two less Harry Potter souvenirs at the theatre or at Platform 9¾ in King’s Cross Station is a very small price to play for a happy trip in a secure hotel run by the likes of Ibis, Premier Inn or Travelodge where not only the rooms but the corridors and sometimes even lifts can only be accessed by keycards to keep out unwanted visitors.

Conclusion

Don’t come to London only to go and see Harry Potter And The Cursed Child. You will be wasting your money.

See the play as part of an overall holiday to the capital of no less than at least three days, otherwise you are going to waste an awful lot of money for what will eventually be on tour or appear on Sky Arts as part of their live theatre broadcasts (same as they did with the Rocky Horror Theatre Show reboot last year). Or will become more accessible once the novelty starts to fade (which from what I encountered is fast approaching).

It is good, very good, but not for what they are charging. If you just happen to be in London that day or that week, get tickets if possible and enjoy, but otherwise my advice for now is go and see The Woman In Black at the Fortune after a slap up Indian at Bhatti’s restaurant instead.

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