The new version of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in Melbourne has officially opened. It condenses an enthralling theatre epic initially produced in two parts over nearly six hours into a single sitting, which is good news for anyone turned off by the play’s length or cost.
You may now take the Hogwarts Express and travel around the wizarding world in one sitting, missing none of the action. Almost all of the jaw-dropping visual effects have been kept – gravity-defying magic duels, frightening Dementors floating overhead, confectionery that causes steam to emerge from the chewer’s ears – and it remains a must-see, particularly for younger Harry Potter fans.
In other ways, the truncated version isn’t any better than the full version, and those who were fortunate enough to witness Cursed Child in its complete form will have little desire to watch it again.
Keeping all of the stage magic means sacrificing part of the theatrical sorcery that made it so captivating. The level of complexity in the two-character parter’s development was one of the things that struck out. The delight of knowing how Harry and Ginny, Ron and Hermione, and even Draco Malfoy turned out as middle-aged adults struggling to parent their children is diminished by removing so much conversation. It also throws off the delicate balance of drama and charm. Despite a more intricate and colored depiction of the story, the spectacle never overshadowed the emotions or hardships that both muggles and magical folk faced. In the stage, the time, has different laws. The shorter version, curiously enough, feels longer. A fully assured dramatic tempo gives way to an expositional manner as careening and unsteady as a first-year at Hogwarts trying to fly a broomstick in this frenetic abridgment.
Despite the faster pace and sparser dialogue, the cast has always been fantastic in the Australian version, and it’s incredible how much of the show’s heart they manage to keep. Ben Walter and Nyx Calder play Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy, keeping the buddy story alive, humorous, and confirmed between two tormented teenagers. Even if this rendition resorts to gratuitous dredging up of homoerotic subtext rather than the more delicate, subtle, and ambiguous hint in the original, the youthful sensitivity (and instability) they bring to the roles are a joy to see. As a married Harry and Ginny Potter, Gareth Reeves and Lucy Goleby manage to convey their characters’ profound bond, and David Ross Paterson as Snape remains a snaky joy. The clever and funny contrast between Paula Arundell’s Hermione and Michael Whalley’s Ron is elegantly delineated but lacks the nuance that makes it lovable. One prominent narrative flaw is the lack of attention given to Delphi Diggory (Jessica Vickers), Albus and Scorpius’ friend. When she scarcely appears in the first half of the play, it’s difficult to elicit an emotional response to the crucial plot twist she plays a part in and the flip side of the orphan story she represents. Even in the hands of accomplished actors, the emotional shorthand can devolve into sentimentality. Americans are less resistant than Australians, and I think the abridged Cursed Child would do better on Broadway than in Melbourne. That’s not to say I wouldn’t want to see it in New York. That is perhaps the best abbreviation of the play that you’ll find anywhere. It’s a stunning stage rollercoaster across the Potter universe, and audiences who don’t have the extended version to compare it to should have a great time.