Just as Hamilton has been all-pervasive on Broadway since it opened there last summer, there's been little talk of anything but Harry Potter's official stage debut over here since the first announcement was made revealing that it was on its way over a year ago. (There was previously a small two-man fringe show called Potted Potter that raced through all the books to date in 70 minutes that transferred from the Trafalgar Studios small house to the Garrick where it was Olivier nominated in 2012, and then off-Broadway).
When tickets finally went on sale for the initial run at the 1,400 seater neo-gothic pile that is the Palace Theatre, they sold out almost instantly, long before the show had even gone into rehearsal. (A new batch is set to be released imminently).
There's been a drip-feed of news ever since that, through to the casting and J.K Rowling tweeting drawings of the show's swords, and the revelation of the front house displays, each fuelling the air of anticipation around it. So now that it is finally here, does it deliver? The first and most important thing to say is: And how! This is absolutely tremendous family entertainment that brilliantly and evocatively brings Harry Potter from the page to the stage -- but instead of adapting an existing story, does even better and continues the story, 19 years from where we left it at the end of the 7th book, to take it further forward in all sorts of spellbinding (in every sense) directions.
Theatregoers are being urged to #KeepTheSecrets -- we're even given a badge to remind us! -- but this much I can say: some of our favourrite -- and a few of our less favourite -- characters are all here. Harry Potter is now 37 and a father of three, and Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley now married with children of their own. Albus Potter, Harry and Ginny Potter's middle child, is leaving for his first term at Hogwart's, along with Hemione and Ron's daughter Rose. One of the first people they meet on the train is Scorpius, son of Draco Malfoy.
We are immediately plunged into another of J.K Rowling's ingeniously plotted rabbit holes of collisions between the natural and supernatural worlds, Muggles and mystery, Wizards and wonderment, and good and evil. An overriding theme here is parenting, with Harry Potter wrestling with being a good father to his son Albus when he, an orphan, has no model to follow.
Some of this is deeply poignant: it reminded me at times of the great Sondheim musical Into the Woods (itself being revived in London at the moment at the Menier Chocolate Factory), which is also about parents and curses and outside forces threatening the world. But of course this isn't a musical, though there's an attractive electronic soundscape and propulsive movement from Steven Hoggett.
If you're not quite a Potter-head, the programme has a helpful summary of the first seven stories. But you don't really need it, either: the story stands on its own feet (though you may miss some of the references that cause the audience at points to collectively and loudly catch their breaths with surprise).
It's a show rich in theatrical magic as well as evoking magical powers, but also deeply human, too, with fantastic performances from a brilliant ensemble cast, led by Jamie Parker as Harry Potter, Sam Clemmett as his son Albus, Noma Dumezweni as Hermione, Paul Thornley as Ron, Alex Price as Draco Malfoy and Anthony Boyle as Draco's son Scorpius.
A group of theatre makers at the very top of their game bring it all to impressive 3D life, from the brilliant designs of Christine Jones (cleverly using the auditorium of Palace Theatre itself in one scene), evocatively lit with architectural splendour by Neil Austin, to Steven Hoggett's propulsive movement.
The result is a work that will thrill new audiences as well as regular theatregoers alike -- some 50% of the audience is reported to be first-timers -- and could inspire and encourage a whole new generation to make theatre part of their lives.
For more photos of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, click here.
What the Press Said...
"It’s a spectacle for the theatre, one that is filled to the brim with fan service and magical imagery that will amaze. For any Potterhead who can get their hands on a ticket, it will no doubt be a fantastic experience..."
Jack Shepherd for the Independent
"This is a production that thrills at the aura of possibility lurking in the Victorian splendour of the theatre itself, a bygone age of smoke and mirrors."
Dominic Cavendish for The Telegraph
"It’s convoluted, but the latest expansion of the Potter universe is thrillingly staged, with time travel and age-old quests given a dash of post-Freudian guilt."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"For once the so-called theatrical event of the year really is just that...a feast for fans, packed with pathos, dazzling choreography and moments of pure enchantment."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard