Whoever coined the phrase “less is more” clearly never saw Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
It’s three and a half hours long! There’s time travel (lots of it)! There’s pyrotechnics! The largest all-Canadian cast in theatre history! Cloaks, good lord, the cloaks!
For fans of the books and films: this play has been imagined with you in mind. Magic has been baked into every corner of the Ed Mirvish theatre — the venue’s spiffy new paint job all but copies Hogwarts’ royal blues and golds, and QR codes scattered throughout the lobby bring small animations to life before the show and during intermission. You have your choice of wands to purchase: resin or chocolate. Many a small theatre-goer posed with a life-sized Hogwarts acceptance letter cookie on opening night.
For those unfamiliar with the Harry Potter franchise (including myself, for the most part), you’re in for an overwhelming affair. Entry to the theatre feels like entry to Disney World — money to be spent at every corner amongst a mob of rabid fans. The beginning of the play might feel a little destabilizing as you adjust to the wizarding vernacular and zippy pace of the script (a side effect of being trimmed from a two-night experience to a one-performance text). Character names may take a few scenes to stick.
But once you settle in, Potterhead or not, you’re in for a night of magic you’ll not soon forget.
The Canadian premiere of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is an achievement across the board, the epitome of spectacle, a well-spent use of what we can assume is an astronomical budget. Onstage illusions are spectacular and precise — even cynics like me, usually quick to notice harnesses and trapdoors, will be left amazed. Most of the performances are excellent — those which aren’t are hindered only by the imposition of an English accent, and even those become more uniform as the show progresses — and draw inspiration from the Harry Potter films’ interpretations of characters without directly copying them.
Set nineteen years after Harry and his friends finally defeat Voldemort (an event which surely needs no spoiler warning all these years later), Harry Potter and the Cursed Child picks up where the final instalment of the books and films leave off. Harry and Ginny (the perfectly matched Trevor White and Trish Lindstrom) drop off their youngest son, Albus (a fantastic Luke Kimball), at Platform 9 ¾, and Hermione and Ron (the wonderful Sarah Afful and Gregory Prest) do the same with their daughter Rose (an energetic Hailey Lewis). Rose is just like her mother, smart and endearingly annoying (and both are criminally under-used in this story), while Albus is haunted by the Potter name, a Hogwarts misfit and uncertain hero of his own story.
It is on the train to Hogwarts where Albus meets Scorpius Malfoy, son of Draco and played by a show-stealing Thomas Mitchell Barnet. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is bravely led by both Barnet as Scorpius and Kimball as Albus, and the pair is electric, a wholly believable set of outcast best friends. (Or… more than friends? The dynamic becomes less clear in the final few moments of the show — I don’t feel it’s a cut-and-dry case of queer-baiting, but a last line on Albus and Scorpius being the “most important” figures in each others’ lives does set off alarm bells for me.)
The plot then contorts into an enormous tale of time-turning and mended families: recounting it here would be pointless, given its heft and potential spoilage. But a recurring figure is Sara Farb as Delphi Diggory, a younger relative of Cedric and a wallflower just like Albus and Scorpius. Farb handles the character deftly, playing each layer for all it’s worth — Delphi as a character feels like a natural fit for her.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is technically sublime. Imogen Heap’s original score is inventive and whimsical, integrated fabulously into Gareth Fry’s sound design. Set by Christine Jones and lights by Neil Austen play beautifully together, and a cloak-heavy costume department headed by Katrina Lindsay ties the Potter aesthetic in a lovely velvet bow. Illusions and magic helmed by Jamie Harrison are the best you’ll see in Toronto — the end of act one in particular is simply breathtaking. And all these aesthetic gears and talented people are led confidently by director John Tiffany, who demonstrates a clear and persistent love for this story and these characters. Tiffany’s work in tandem with Steven Hoggett’s choreography in particular is jaw-dropping — the highly stylized wand dance is a high point of the show, and transitions between scenes are incredibly crisp.
The elephant in the room is that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is being produced at all in 2022. Harry Potter’s author was all but cut from a recent documentary about the films, and the only mention of her in the promotional materials for Cursed Child is a tiny (and presumably contractually mandatory) name in the show’s logo. She’s done measurable harm to members of her fan base by making (and standing by) transphobic remarks online; the constant re-platforming of her IP is frustrating as a queer person myself. Surely there are other high-budget, high-impact shows which Mirvish could pursue as their season headliner, shows which don’t line the pockets of a woman who through her actions has irrevocably alienated much of the global queer community.
But programmed it has been. And Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, after a long and frustrating pandemic, has employed dozens of Canadian artists, and will undoubtedly delight thousands of Torontonians returning to live events for the first time since 2020. To weaponize my own frustrations with Mirvish’s programming against the brilliant, resilient artists flexing their craft onstage would be a little excessive. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is dazzling, as magical as theatre can get. And if Potter is the cash cow Mirvish needs in order to bring less contentious material to Toronto in future seasons, then so be it — it’ll be a guaranteed hit for as long as it’s in town.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child runs at the CAA Ed Mirvish Theatre indefinitely. Tickets are available here.