I’ve been a Potterhead for over a decade and, despite the bad reviews Harry Potter and the Cursed Child got, I needed to see the play. My friend and I bought tickets to see it about a year ago, before the script had even been published. When we bought the tickets and there wasn’t much information out about the play, we were excited to go see it. We are both die-hard Potterheads and I can’t really foresee a future where either of us won’t be in this fandom, and the idea of seeing a post-Battle of Hogwarts future on stage was extremely appealing (MAGIC!!!).
I won’t lie: by the time I went to see the play this week, I had already read reviews of it by other Potterheads. I knew the plot wasn’t great, I knew the characters had little development and depth, and I knew that queer-baiting was an issue. So I wasn’t as excited as I was when the tickets were bought. Still, I wanted to see it because I’m a Potterhead and I am interested in the characters and what happened to them after Voldemort was defeated. Here are some reflections on watching the play.
1. Harry Potter fans will throw money at the franchise no matter what
This is something I hate about being a Harry Potter fan: I will spend huge chunks of my disposable income on Harry Potter stuff until the end of time. I could stop, I guess, but God knows I won’t and there isn’t a lot of reason for this beyond nostalgia. Harry Potter reminds me of childhood, it reminds me of home, it reminds me of the first piece of art that I was absolutely obsessed with. When I watched the last movie on opening night, I openly sobbed because it was the end of an era–I have never, ever done that for any other kind of media.
And the thing that really pisses me off about this is that the franchise knows that people like me will spend our money on whatever new Harry Potter thing they’re going to do next. Evidence for this is the fact that The Cursed Child is actually two plays that are almost 3 hours long each. It’s so clearly a money-grab: I payed 60 pounds to sit in restricted view seats for almost SIX HOURS, watching a play that was extremely badly written–AND I DON’T REGRET IT. Only someone who is in a fandom would do that.
Neither of us–fandom or franchise–will stop indulging in this destructive relationship. And I don’t even know if I want it to stop. It’s nice that Harry Potter has generated such a vast world that keeps giving. It’s just an infuriating paradox at times.
2. I could tell how much of this was written by a man who wanted to emulate JK Rowling but failed
I’m not saying Rowling’s original text has no sexism (and I have written about how JK Rowling’s feminism is super fake before), but it was so obvious that most of this play was written by a man. I checked, and two men wrote it: John Tiffany and Jack Thorne. I have no idea who they are (nor do I care) but the sexism embedded in how the female characters were written was painfully obvious. Voldemort’s daughter, Delphy, is simply a recycled Bellatrix Lestrange who laughs after every single evil thing she says, in a frankly offensive attempt to paint her as a psychotic evil woman. How is it that Voldemort has a whole back story that explains why he is so evil and his daughter is simply painted as a crazy woman? The difference in how both of these characters are presented is stark and, in addition to it being sexist, it’s very ableist.
Also, in one of the alternative timelines created by Scorpius and Albus going back in time, Hermione turns into a mean Hogwarts teacher because she never married Ron. Ron still had a career and a family, but because Hermione never married Ron, her whole life was derailed. I have to call bullshit on this one: Ron isn’t a catch, Hermione would have kicked ass in anything she chose to do and to create an alternate reality in which her whole life was ruined because she didn’t marry a dude is so damn sexist.
Most of the female characters in this play who weren’t deeply developed in the original books were like this: sexist caricatures. It was pathetic, and so blatantly written by men who have never examined their gender biases that it was painful to watch.
3. The human side of Harry Potter is under-explored
While the central subject of the play–that Bellatrix Lestrange and Voldemort had a daughter who wants to change history by going back in time–is ludicrous and I will never accept it as cannon (sorry, not sorry!), when the script refers back to the source material and deals with original characters and how they’ve dealt with what happened at the Battle of Hogwarts, I found myself being extremely interested.
Here’s the thing: of course I love the magical aspects of Harry Potter and the wizarding world is fascinating to me in ways I can’t quite explain. But in the moments where Harry was struggling to be a father, a husband, and generally a functioning person because he has survivor’s guilt and (what I read as) PTSD, I was choked up, I wanted to know more. When Draco Malfoy had meaningful, albeit strained, conversations with his son Scorpius about being forced to be a Death Eater, I wanted more. I was reminded that Draco was never evil, but a confused child, and I needed to know more about the adult he became and how all of this affected his choices as an adult.
As Potterheads, we grew up with Harry Potter and his friends and enemies. We read about Harry and his friends going through the trials of young life: falling in love, dating, bereavement, difficult choices, becoming more mature. Yes, it was about magic, but it was also about growing up and the relationships we retain as we grow up. As we became adults, we no longer had those characters accompanying our choices and our lives, we no longer had that safe haven where we would always find something to relate to. Harry Potter was about magic but it was also about friendship, love, family, and all the things in between that both muggles and wizards have in common. I feel like the human aspects of Harry Potter are the most interesting to me, and they are under-developed. If they had cut out the part with Voldemort’s daughter and only focused on inter-personal relationships, the play would have been a million times better, it would have been way shorter and I wouldn’t be writing this post right now.