An epic battle against darkness in 'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child' at the Curran Theatre. (Matthew Murphy)
After more than a month of previews, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child opened at the Curran Theatre with a Sunday marathon of both Parts One and Two—over five hours of wizardly drama and human emotion.
Beyond the first few books, my knowledge of Harry Potter lore is woefully minimal. So I brought a guide. Juliana Greco is 12 years old, and a proud Gryffindor. She first read the entire series of Harry Potter books when she was eight, has seen all the movies, and even went to a midnight book release party for the published script of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in 2016. Plus, she went to the very first preview performance of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child back in October. Besides The Nutcracker at the San Francisco Ballet, this wildly inventive, epic production is her first play.
KQED: What’s something you noticed this time around that you hadn’t noticed before (during the preview performance)?
Juliana Greco: They use suitcases a lot, as props. They sat on the suitcases in the Hogwarts Express, and then they used them stacked for the top of the train, and then they walked out with the suitcases while they put things on the stage, to distract us.
That’s a really good observation. They use them as tombstones too, I noticed. What’s another?
The lighting. I noticed that in different scenes it’s lighter or darker...like the forbidden forest and the lake need to be darker, but they still put small spotlights on the people so we could see them. And then in later scenes, like at Hogwarts, or the Ministry of Magic, you would need more light.
I thought the lighting (designed by Neil Austin) was very well done. As long as we’re talking about lights, how did the sound affect you? What did you think about it?
I liked the sound, because it kind of helped make it more magical, and make the effects seem like they had sounds...The music is there to feel it, so you don’t just hear talking, but you can feel what they feel as their characters...like maybe they’re sad or there’s something they’re realizing.
What’s a favorite magic trick that you saw in the play?
I think the time-turner, because it brings them back in time. And that wavy movement on the stage, as if time is rippling back, is really magical.
It’s pretty cool. I don’t think I’ve seen something like that on a stage before.
Also, the sound makes it feel like it’s vibrating, which makes you feel like you’re vibrating.
Yeah, like you’re going back in time.
The production design was indeed a highlight. Although the musical score penned by alt-rocker Imogen Heap struck me in places as being overly cinematic, as Juliana noted, the sound design by Gareth Fry lent veracity to the magic effects. The lighting shouldered much of the burden of shifting time and place, in a palette that encompassed the warm glow of a family home, the aquatic blues of a dazzling underwater sequence, and the harsh vision of a totalitarian alternate reality. Meanwhile, the magical staging offered just the right balance between humor and wonder (illusions and magic by Jamie Harrison, bolstered by key video projections by Finn Ross and Ash J. Woodward). Startling, immersive flourishes beyond the elaborately arched set (Christine Jones), such as the Hogwarts carpeting and wallpaper adorning the Curran, and occasional breaks in the fourth wall added greatly to the experience as a whole.
What did you think of the acting?
I think the actor who plays Scorpius Malfoy (Jon Steiger) does a really good job.
I agree, he makes you really feel for the character. What do you think of Scorpius as a character? He seems very different than any of the characters that we’re used to from the books.
I like how he represents how you don’t have to be evil to be Slytherin. He kind of shows that just because he is Draco’s son doesn’t mean he’s mean, or that he wants to be a Malfoy. Just like Albus doesn’t want to be Harry Potter’s son....But after he comes back (from the time-travel altered world), he is braver. He sort of helps to lead Albus, instead of him following.
What other acting stands out for you?
I think the actor of Ginny Potter (Angela Reed) stands out really well, and also all of the actors that are meant to stand out. Especially Delphi Diggory (Emily Juliette Murphy) and Moaning Myrtle (Brittany Zeinstra).
Are there any characters that you see yourself in, or that you identify with or feel really connected to?
Maybe Ginny Potter. Because she’s kind of what Gryffindor is. She’s friendly. She has courage. I’m friendly and I have courage. And she has friends, and she likes being who she is!
Do you think there’s a message to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child? Is there something we should be learning from it?
They did bring up that “love blinds you,” a lot. So I guess it’s about finding the true meaning in somebody, rather than what you think they are.
Would you recommend this play?
Yes! But you should probably review the books. You just need to know some facts that will be necessary in watching the play so you don’t have a lot of questions.
For both of us, Jon Steiger as Scorpius definitely stood out, as a character who undergoes one of the biggest personal evolutions. I also appreciated the jokey, guileless nature of Ron Weasley (David Abeles), the steadfast accountability of Hermione Granger (Yanna McIntosh), and the complementary brusqueness of Draco Malfoy (Lucas Hall) and Professor McGonagall (Shannon Cochran). Although I didn’t always get an at-odds, father-son vibe from the actors who play Harry Potter and Albus Potter (John Skelley and Benjamin Papac), Papac’s BFF connection to Steiger was a delight.
As Juliana mentioned, a central theme in the play is that of love, informing even the play’s darkest characters, and bringing everyone’s deepest fears and boldest choices into the light. Occasionally, the many speeches about the powers and pitfalls of love hinder rather than drive the action onstage, and there are definitely scenes that seem superfluous, even maudlin, in this regard. I wouldn’t have understood the details of the historic Triwizard Cup debacle without my tour guide, and those five-plus hours of stage time are a pretty big ask for a fair-weather fan. But the audacious theatricality of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child does create a real opportunity to turn a new generation onto the magic of live performance, one Polyjuice potion and levitating Dementor at a time.
Tickets for 'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child' at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco are currently available through June 2020. Details here.
For arts stories you won’t read anywhere else, come to KQED’s Arts and Culture desk.