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review

Sarah Afful as Hermione Granger, left to right, Gregory Prest as Ron Weasley, Trish Linstrom as Ginny Potter, Trevor White as Harry Potter and Brad Hodder as Draco Malfoy from the Toronto cast of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.Evan Zimmerman/Courtesy of Mirvish

  • Title: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
  • Written by: Jack Thorne
  • Based on a story by: J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany
  • Director: John Tiffany
  • Actors: Trevor White, Luke Kimball, Thomas Mitchell Barnet
  • Company: David Mirvish, Sonia Friedman Productions, Colin Callender, Harry Potter Theatrical Productions
  • Venue: CAA Ed Mirvish Theatre
  • City: Toronto, Ont.
  • Year: Runs to Dec. 24, 2022
  • COVID-19 measures: Masks required until further notice

Critic’s Inner Child Pick

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the worldwide theatrical blockbuster that opened up a long-awaited Canadian outpost in Toronto on the weekend, is an absolutely breathtaking live production.

While the theatre critic that I am may not exactly be sure what to make of such an action-packed, fan- service-stuffed play, the child inside that cursed critic had a complete blast.

What British director John Tiffany and his frequent choreographic colleague Steven Hoggett have created with their team of magicians – I refer to both literal ones and the designers behind the miraculous mise-en-scène – kept my inner kiddo agog and gasping for close to 3½ hours.

Meet Christine Jones, the Canadian set designer who imagined the wizarding world of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

I was amazed when Dementors floated on high in the CAA Ed Mirvish theatre (where chandeliers used to fall). I was astounded by wizards somehow transforming into other wizards in plain view after downing Polyjuice Potion. And my jaw genuinely dropped – like, right out of my mask – when a Time Turner was activated and sent a shock wave through the air that somehow seemed to turn the solid set, briefly, into liquid.

Now, if you don’t know what a Time Turner, Polyjuice Potion or Dementors are, I’m not going to bother to fill you in – as I can tell you right away that British playwright Jack Thorne’s play, at least in how it has been condensed from two parts to one for its North American iterations, is not for you.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is, really, more the commercial culmination of the boom in young-adult theatre seen in Britain over the past 15 years.Courtesy of Mirvish

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – based on a story conjured by Thorne with the help of Tiffany and J.K. Rowling herself – assumes pre-existing knowledge of the Potterverse and, indeed, you will need it to feel anything for its cavalcade of characters with the exception of two brand-new protagonists.

The first of those is Albus Severus Potter (Luke Kimball), the underachieving son of grown-up Harry Potter (Trevor White) and Ginny Weasley (Trish Lindstrom).

While on his first-year train ride to Hogwarts, Albus makes friends with the show’s second hero, a squeaky-voiced misfit named Scorpius Malfoy (Thomas Mitchell Barnet). Scorpius is the only son of Harry’s old enemy Draco Malfoy (Brad Hodder) – though, according to some rumours, his biological father was the late dark-magic majordomo Lord Voldemort.

Albus and Scorpius are both assigned Slytherin House and the first three years of their schooling, during which they bond as they are regularly bullied, are covered in a prologue that speeds by like a runaway train.

Thomas Mitchell Barnet as Scorpius Malfoy, left to right, Hailey Lewis as Rose Granger Weasley and Luke Kimball as Albus Potter.Evan Zimmerman/Courtesy of Mirvish

The play’s action begins in earnest, and slows down only slightly, on the eve of Albus’s fourth year at Hogwarts – when he gets into an all-out fight his famous father and deeply hurtful words are exchanged.

In an act of filial rebellion, Albus enlists Scorpius to go on a dangerous mission that he hopes will right a wrong his father was involved with long ago. The plan is to steal a recently recovered Time Turner from the Ministry of Magic (where Harry Potter and his old friend Hermione, played by Sarah Afful, now work) and use it go back in time to save Cedric Diggory.

Now, if you are asking “who is Cedric Diggory?” then … are you really still reading this review? This play is not for you, I said. (Though I would suggest it wouldn’t hurt even those well-acquainted with the books or movies to brush up on the 1994 Triwizard Tournament that ended in Cedric’s death.)

On one level, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child can feel like Hollywood’s profitable obsession with Intellectual Property and endless sequels, prequels and reboots trickling down to theatre. But, really, it is more the commercial culmination of the boom in young-adult theatre seen in Britain over the past 15 years.

During that time, non-musical productions based on books such as War Horse and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time that have been more notable for their innovative staging than their scripts have found musical-sized financial success on the West End and Broadway (and, sometimes, Toronto).

Harry Potter takes that British-led theatrical craftsmanship to a whole new level – even if Thorne’s script has more obvious weaknesses, notably in its confounding, stakes-lowering take on time travel and its strangely coy approach to a queer relationship that makes it seem like this play, like the early books, was written in the 1990s rather than 2016.

Kimball's Albus Severus Potter, right, is the underachieving son of White's grown-up Harry Potter, left, and Lindstrom's Ginny Weasley.Evan Zimmerman/Courtesy of Mirvish

The acting in the huge, hard-working company in this Toronto production is impeccable, however. Both Kimball and Mitchell Barnet give honest portraits of teenage awkwardness and angst – and admirably let the audience come to them.

To name a couple others, I was grateful to Gregory Prest for the congenial goofiness he inserted into the show as Ron Weasley – and to Fiona Reid for bringing her polish and panache to the proceedings in a couple of roles that I shan’t name to avoid spoiling the fun for fans.

As for Harry Potter himself, the excellent White has the meatiest material – bringing the play as close to moving as it ever gets, playing a father who is lost in part because he lost a series of fathers in his life. Thorne’s script comes up roses in its wise lines about the paradoxes of parenthood. “We cannot protect the young from harm,” another someone-who-must-not-be-named-for-spoiler-purposes tells him. “Pain must and will come.”

Top: Hodder as Draco Malfoy, left to right, Fiona Reid as Professor McGonagall, White as Harry Potter and Lindstrom as Ginny Potter. Bottom: White has the meatiest material, playing a grown-up Harry Potter.Courtesy of Mirvish

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