magic wham bam | The Spectator Australia
It’s an extraordinary thing in the way it revisits Harry Potter and the Cursed Child three years after its triumphant one-day opening. In 2019, there was the pleasant surprise that much of the human drama was retained and heightened in various ways in Jack Thorne’s collaboration with JK Rowling which showed Harry and Ginny, Ron and Hermione, doing facing the middle-aged parent’s world even though the Dementors continued to suck the very breath of happiness, Hogwarts was the magical mystery school it had always been and there was all the dazzle and dazzle of the world . Snape spat it all out of his mouth like a sort of enlightened Richard III and Rowling’s universe was there in all its remembered glory but with an added touch of maturity and dramatic subtlety. Off we go, alas, in this new shortcut with the extraordinary largesse of the opening series of parties hosted by that wonderful publicist Peter Bridges where we were bussed the short distance to the Exhibition Center at the end of ‘afternoon and were feasted in every way on expensive alcohol and food and where you could catch up with members of the entertainment world – Magda Szubanski was reading Middle-walk and came out toddlers for enchantment, Fred Schepisi and his artist wife Mary were there and the beauty of Christie Whelan Browne (which matches her talent) was in the spotlight. It was a reunion of the clans and now seems like a lost domain given the pandemic that has happened, the lockdowns under Daniel Andrews, the way the Melbourne theater has become a ghostly memory. And because Harry Potter and the Cursed Child had been such a sustained exercise in innocent fun and Peter Bridges’ succession of parties were like rival works of art, the original six-and-a-half-hour production – watched from plush front seats in the company of a millennial who shone and beamed with delight as if the best of his childhood rose before him – the unabridged version may seem like the dreamlike cyclorama of a world we’ve lost.
The feeling of loss is actually an illusion, everything from hamilton to Rodgers and Hammerstein Cinderella soars all around us like commercial theater has no tomorrow, almost like Covid is over and the world is a safe clean sheet just because everyone caught the virus from their kids.
All this can have a joyful side. There is certainly a great deal of cordiality in the spotlight in theatrical circles, but the new compendium of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child doesn’t live up to the epic original. The millennial who lived it (another) – from a mad enthusiasm for books and movies – was a little bored. The problem with this compendium is that it goes hand in hand to preserve all the magical wham-bam effects, but at the expense of the human drama which is neglected in terms of dialogue, pacing, and proper human direction. Nobody – at least ideally – wants Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a complex populism in its own way, reduced to its special effects because their particularity worked so well in the original where the human scale is so deftly respected. In this regard, the original stage show was a complex side step that matched but also subtly subdued elements of the original.
After all, of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone Sure, the supreme vitamin of JK Rowling’s books – the element of magical readability that rivaled Agatha Christie – was the way they combined the broom tricks of magic and the supreme evil of Voldemort with the traditional story of the boarding school and the subset of this is the highly rewarding effect of adult characters – Dumbledore, Professor McGonagall, Snape, etc. One of Rowling’s contributions to preserving the best of British culture is that adults were played in films by people like Maggie Smith and Richard Harris (eventually replaced by Gambon as Dumbledore), by Alan Rickman and Imelda Staunton . One result is that millennials know these alumni where they couldn’t place Vanessa Redgrave or Glenda Jackson.
Of course, another consequence with the movies is that the older characters tend to be cut down to get all the spectacle of Quidditch on screen, so in some ways the most complete dramatic achievement in the books was to hear them read aloud by Stephen Fry or Jim Dale. (Again, the books themselves get inordinately long and actually peak in The Prisoner of Azkaban which is also the best of the movies.)
None of this is meant to deny the delights of the abbreviated show which is likely to delight people who haven’t seen the longer, more subtle version of cursed child. And the performance is, as always, good. Ben Walter is a compelling Albus Potter and Nyx Calder is a pretty perfect movie as Scorpius Malfoy. Garth Reeves has the right amount of improvised gravity as adult father Harry and Lucy Goleby are fine as Ginny. Some critics have taken it upon themselves to cut back on what Jessica Vickers can do as Delphi Diggory because the cut cursed child lengthens and distorts the very flexible and superbly paced drama of the Rowling/Jack Thorne original. Still, we have David Ross Patterson’s Snape and if he’s not the late Alan Rickman, he’s certainly something.
It all culminated in the very different drama of the change of Australian government a few days later in what is arguably the most dramatic election result since 1972. We have witnessed the decimation of the traditional Liberal party and the exit of some of its most formidable moderates such as Dave Sharma and Tim Wilson not to mention the shattering defeat at Kooyong of former treasurer Josh Frydenberg who was destined to inherit the leadership of the Coalition if Scott Morrison was defeated. The rise of the “teals” may be just as significant as that of the DLP in the 1950s.