Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child works on three levels. It’s a nostalgic trip through the Potter-verse. It’s a spectacle filled with stunts, illusions and pyrotechnics. And, more importantly, it’s a story of inter-generational trauma. Albus Severus Potter hates Hogwarts School of Magic and Wizardry. Having a famous father has made him a pariah. Harry’s PTSD keeps him from connecting with his son. Their conflict provides the play’s engine.

Only one person understands Albus; Scorpius Malfoy. The timid son of his father’s arch enemy. They’ll go on a journey that’s part Bill and Ted, part Romeo and Juliet. I won’t spoil their adventure except to say that it’s overly familiar. These characters deserved something fresh.

Memories

It’s 1999. My sibling was gifted a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. They dismissed it as too childish so I read it myself. It was the story of a child so magical that his abusive family couldn’t keep him in the closet. I was hooked.

It’s the year 2000. I’m spending the summer with my ailing aunt. She gifts me The Goblet of Fire. I read it in the mornings before going to my summer job. Months later she passes away. I eventually donate my book collection but make sure to cut out the end paper where she wrote a message.

Fast forward to 2003. The U.S.’s “war on terror” is underway. I’m working two part time jobs and struggling to pay rent. My anxiety levels have sky-rocketed. Reading The Order of the Phoenix does not help. The wizarding world has been taken over by fascists. Harry has no safe haven and neither do I.

I finished the remaining books out of a sense of obligation. But the story wasn’t fun anymore.  

Scorbus

Jack Thorne’s script premiered on the West End in 2016. It was a two-part epic. Audiences noticed romantic subtext in the relationship between Albus and Scorpius. These star-crossed friends fought all attempts to separate them. They risked their lives for each other. The actors insisted the friendship was platonic. Scorbus fans were disappointed. I was not surprised. My expectations for commercial queer representation were low.

I can only speak for when I was doing the show, but it never really felt like that… But maybe another actor will play it differently.

Anthony Boyle, interview with Inverse, 2020

In 2021 something happened. J.K. Rowling’s transphobic comments had left her queer fans heartbroken. Adding abusive queer relationships to the Fantastic Beasts series didn’t help. But Jack Thorne had compressed The Cursed Child into one part and made it gayer. Critics wrote that the relationship between Albus and Scorpius had changed. Time Out called it “an explicit romance.” Last month I had the chance to see for myself.

The play was more exciting on stage than on the page. The magic tricks kept me guessing. How on earth did they do that one? By intermission I’d given up on spotting any sign of queerness. The actors were playing something that wasn’t quite in the text. Things changed in act two. (Spoilers ahead.)

A villain held Scorpius captive. Once, they’d sneered at Albus that his greatest weakness was “friendship.” Now they told him it was “love.” Interesting, I thought. Jumping ahead: Scorpius originally boasted he’d asked a girl on a date. Then gave Albus a goodbye hug. Now there was no date and the hug lingered. Scorpius’s line about “this new version of us” rang differently. The boys shared a bashful smile before parting. The play ends on a conversation between father and son. Originally there was no talk of Scorpius. Now we get this:

ALBUS: You know, right? That Scorpius is the most important person in my life. That he may always be the most important.

HARRY: I know. and I like it. In fact, I really like him. And if he’s the most important person in your life then I’d say that’s a great thing.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

We in the audience held our collective breath. This was happening. And yet… there was still plausible deniability. It reminded me of the way the actors from Stranger Things had discussed Will Byers before the season four finale. Anyone who didn’t want to see it could choose not to. The straight couples kissed. Scorbus hugged. I’d hoped they’d hold hands at curtain call. Sadly, they were separated in the line by their fathers. Telling, that.

Future actors still have the option to “play it differently.” I’ve no illusions that the inevitable film will include it. This is the Hollywood that turned Achilles and Patroclus into “cousins.” But for actors James Romney and Brady Dalton Richards it’s canon.

It’s like one of the greatest honors of my life, so far, to be able to inject a little more literal queer vision into this universe that we’ve all lived in for so long.  

Brady Dalton Richards, Interview with Backstage Live, 2022

One budding queer relationship isn’t enough to restore the franchise for me. Rowling has done things that can’t be undone. I wish the boys could say “I love you.” I wish the story was more original. I wish Harry and Scorpius had a conversation. I wish the women in the play had something to do. But I’m grateful to Romney and Richards for having the courage to let these boys fall in love. They’ve given me another happy memory of the wizarding world. 

You can find my reviews on The Avocado, Letterboxd and Serializd. My podcast, Rainbow Colored Glasses, can be found here.