LONDON — It was my daughter’s Hogwarts-and-patronus-charm obsession that got me hooked on the Harry Potter novels and then, the movie adaptations. So there was some injustice in her not being with me as I ventured even further into Potterology via the new two-part, 5 1/4-hour London stage extravaganza, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.”
Lizzie will get her shot, for sure, after the twin productions come in the spring of 2018 to the Lyric Theatre on Broadway, where they are sure to cause a consumer frenzy to rival the blackest Black Friday. Sufficiently steeped in the joys of flue powder and the terrors of Dolores Umbridge, I couldn’t let a recent trip to London pass without immersing myself in the newly minted story involving grown-up Harry (played by Jamie Parker), working now at the Ministry of Magic and still being tormented by memories of the Dark Lord he vanquished at the end of the last novel, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.”
That many more of the patrons in the West End’s Palace Theater were closer to Lizzie’s age than mine has to be a comforting sight for the producers and conceivers of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” who include none other than the novelist at the center of the Potter universe, J.K. Rowling. How much of what transpires during the enjoyable if overlong “Cursed Child” is for younger super-fans became clear to me, though, as I marveled at the productions’ gallery of nifty illusions — and some of the better aspects of the occasionally hyperventilating storytelling.
John Tiffany and Jack Thorne, the director and playwright, respectively, are so eager to pack in as many familiar references as possible that the production comes dangerously close to qualifying as theme-park entertainment. The heavily plotted evenings, a cavalcade of short scenes, retrace a lot of well-worn steps from the novels, which feeds enthusiasts’ appetites for reunions with such dearly departed characters as Severus Snape (Paul Bengal), Albus Dumbledore (Barry McCarthy) and the spectral Moaning Myrtle (Annabel Baldwin), as well as for magical-creature sightings of centaurs, giants and Dementors. (If you need to ask what a Dementor is, you’re in need of a semester at Hogwarts yourself.)
The interludes of magic — masterminded by the wizardly Jamie Harrison — grandly activate the plays’ segues into time travel and transport-by-chimney and what you might call ultimate wand fighting. They more than satisfy a special-effects-savvy spectator’s need for filmic thrills. Having beforehand read the plays, which were published in “rehearsal script” form virtually in tandem with the shows’ premieres last summer, I wondered how the creative team would accomplish some of the more complicated tricks, such as the battle between three of the characters and a violently animated bookcase in the office of Minister of Magic Hermione Granger (Noma Dumezweni). The effect, like so many others, has been worked out with elegant intelligence, of a masterly sort that manages to seem entirely of the world of the stage. As a bonus, the movement created by Tiffany’s longtime collaborator, Steven Hoggett, injects the kind of stylized fluidity that fulfills some of the evenings’ art-ier ambitions.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the best parts of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” have less to do with Harry than with the child, one Albus Potter (Sam Clement), a son of Harry and Ginny (Poppy Miller) who on the cusp of adolescence expresses his deep resentment of his famous father; their mutual alienation is confirmed when the Sorting Hat (Chris Jarman) shuffles Albus off to a highly unPotter-ish fate at Hogwarts. In another smart reversal of Potter orthodoxy, Albus’s best friend is a Malfoy — Scorpius Malfoy (Anthony Boyle), son of Harry’s nemesis Draco Malfoy (Alex Price). The relationship forged between Clement’s Albus and Boyle’s Scorpius is as warm and complex as anything Rowling came up with in the novels. A measure of this is the fact that none of the carryover adult characters in “Cursed Child” are evoked with comparable dimensionality; their dialogue often sounds as if it’s echoing hollowly off the Rowling texts.
As in many a theatrical blockbuster these days, no single performer, or performance, is designed to dominate here. It’s the production itself that’s been engineered to be the ultimate star. This goal the clever cadre of Potter imagineers has achieved with a stage version that rewards diehard-fan loyalty as skillfully as any franchise in history.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, by Jack Thorne. Directed by John Tiffany, based on an original story by Thorne, Tiffany and J.K. Rowling. At the Palace Theatre, London. Performances are generally sold out, but check the website, harrypottertheplay.com, for returned tickets. The next release of tickets occurs on Jan. 23, for performances from Feb. 7, 2018 to April 29, 2018.