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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a Read-along (Act One)

04 Aug

Loten refuses to read this [though I will be interjecting in various places] so we decided it was my turn. Let’s see how long it takes for this thing to turn my brain to mush. I’ll try to keep up running commentary as we go and summarise my final thoughts at the end.

Full disclosure: I’ve written about this play before, I’ve already read quite a few spoilers and am aware of some of the more outrageous plot points.

Title page says: “Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne. A new play by Jack Thorne.” (Rowling’s name is in the biggest letters, naturally. I’m not sure how much of it this means she actually wrote. The impression I get from this title page is that Thorne of the small-name-font-size wrote the play itself, Rowling clearly wants the most credit for the storyline but who knows what role she’s actually played. But if this ends up reading like fanfic, that’s because in a sense it is. I wish I could be optimistic that with some other writers to help, Rowling might turn out something decent.)

Also, this is a “special rehearsal edition” whatever that means. It’s 191 pages. Fucking kill me now.

There’s a dedication page with a dedication from each of the three authors. Rowling’s is to Thorne, and reads as follows: “To Jack Thorne, who entered my world and did beautiful things there.” We’ll see, Joanne. We’ll fucking see.

The play’s divided into two parts, each of which is divided into two acts.

Act one.

Scene one.

We open literally during the epilogue everyone hated, a promising start. And they’re literally recycling lines from the book, which I suppose works as callback (the fans this is aimed at will probably like it), but is already pissing me off.

Harry and family are at King’s Cross and they’re sort of telling James off for mocking Albus and saying he might be in Slytherin. Good job perpetuating house prejudice, Harry, here’s your father of the year award. It’s shaped specially like a dildo so you can shove it up your arse.

Actual stage direction: “HARRY and LILY put their hands on ALBUS’s trolley — GINNY joins JAMES’s trolley — together, the family run hard into the barrier.” Genuinely curious how they did this in the actual show; I wish I could believe they actually did force the actors to crash into a wall.

Scene two.

More actual stage directions: “His hand is empty. It’s a lame trick. Everyone enjoys its lameness.” (about Ron doing some kind of stupid trick in an attempt to amuse a child) Ron’s barely been in scene and already I hate him. Also everyone’s using the word lame, not just in the stage directions; someone tell Rowling that it’s ableist, I don’t think she knows. Hermione’s snarking at him but I don’t think Rowling meant all of her lines to be snarky, which amuses me.

This, however, does not amuse me:

ALBUS: Dad . . .
ALBUS pulls on HARRY’s robes. HARRY looks down.
Do you think — what if I am — what if I’m put in Slytherin . . .
HARRY: And what would be wrong with that?
ALBUS: Slytherin is the House of the snake, of Dark Magic . . . It’s not a House of brave wizards.

WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN TEACHING YOUR CHILDREN YOU IDIOT. Also, let’s dissect Albus’ objection here (he sounds like another Albus, doesn’t he?). What, exactly, is wrong with snakes? [I concur. Snakes are awesome and often surprisingly cute.] What, exactly, is wrong with not being brave? (I know, I know, we’re working in Rowling’s value system, where bravery is just a synonym for virtue…) Objecting to Dark Magic is the only potentially-sensible thing, I won’t go too deep into apologetics about it but suffice it to say Rowling has never once defined what ‘dark magic’ actually means, except ‘magic good people don’t like and disliking it makes you one of the good people’. Learn your Euthyphro, Rowling, your tautology is showing.

Of course from there we go into the infamous “bravest man I ever knew” line, straight out of the book, and we learn Harry’s never once explained to Albus Severus where his name came from (well, we already knew it from the book, but here it is again). Stage directions explicitly say this: “This is something he’s never said before, it resonates around his head a moment.” Way to go, Harry.

Proceed into a bunch of meaningless banter as the children board the train and leave. Most of it’s irrelevant and uninteresting, but we also get this:

HARRY: Strange, Al being worried he’ll be sorted into Slytherin.
HERMIONE: That’s nothing, Rose is worried whether she’ll break the Quidditch scoring record in her first or second year. And how early she can take her O.W.L.s.
RON: I have no idea where she gets her ambition from.
GINNY: And how would you feel, Harry, if Al — if he is?

For fuck’s sake. It’s not strange, Harry, because of your precise attitude! (Let’s also note he never responds to Ginny here, they digress and the scene ends). And then there’s Hermione’s line, it’s like they’re smashing us across the face with the fact that Rose is her and Ron’s daughter and must combine traits from them.

(Side note: I’m aware they cast a black woman as Hermione in the first performances of this show, and I’m wondering if that changes how all of these references to “ambition” come across. Hermione working at least twice as hard as everyone else and barely getting recognition for it/getting mocked for it is a bit more pointed when you put it in a racialised context.)

While we’re at it, let’s talk about ambition. Commenter janach pointed out that given the above, Rose really belongs in Slytherin. Yes, I agree. But that said, I think ‘ambition’ is a really broad category and comes in a variety of flavours. Hermione herself always comes across as having a sort of Hufflepuff/Ravenclaw flavoured ambition, hard work and hunger for knowledge (which makes it all the more puzzling she’s in Gryffindor, it’s the worst fit of the houses for her). But then there’s the Gryffindor flavour of ambition, which is what we get in Ron (and also in Gilderoy Lockhart despite him allegedly being a Ravenclaw), the hunger for fame and recognition, the desire to seem important. And, I suppose, the Slytherin flavour, which has to do with expanding social connections and influence (Slughorn, Lucius Malfoy) or wielding political power/leadership (Dumbledore, Riddle), the desire to actually be important. I’m sure there’s overlap between these, to a degree I’m oversimplifying here, but I think (for instance) what Hermione describes Rose having is, in being a ridiculous exaggeration of Hermione’s own character (and then the fusion with Ron’s) is a very Gryffindorish ambition. And no, that is not a compliment.

Scene three.

We’re on the train. Albus and Rose are having stilted dialogue about “choosing who to be friends with”. (Lovely children there. Very accepting. Much wow.)

ROSE: On the contrary, it’s exciting. I’m a Granger-Weasley, you’re a Potter — everyone will want to be friends with us, we’ve got the pick of anyone we want.

That’s really in there. That’s really something they had her say. Funny how that sounds like book one Draco, isn’t it? [It also sounds like Ron to me, not that Ron was ever in a social position to say crap like that.] I’m assuming it came from Ron also.

It gets worse.

They go immediately into a compartment which happens to contain Scorpius Malfoy and strike up a conversation with him. He talks quite a lot, and it’s actually kind of cute in a gormless way – he’s going on about sweets and how he wants to share sweets with them because his mother told him that will help him make friends with people. He comes across as nervous but friendly. So does Albus. Rose, on the contrary, is not, and keeps hitting Albus every time he tries to be friendly. (Yes, that’s actually what it says. Ron’s child, everybody.)

Then immediately they discuss the rumour that Scorpius is really Voldemort’s son, conceived via Time-Turner (except they’ve spelt it ‘rumor’, I wonder why). The dialogue about that is really stilted and awkward and nothing like how people really talk. It’s as stupid as it sounds. If they really wanted it to be credible, better to just say they’d used frozen sperms or something (oh, right, probably can’t mention sperms in a play people might take children to).

[Does it say specifically what era the rumours claim they Time-Turnered to in order to achieve this? Because Voldy as we see him in the second war is clearly not physically human, I doubt he bothered to craft himself functioning genitals for his new body even if he was fertile. And I’m not sure they could have gone back far enough for Tom Riddle. As if that’s the main objection to this pile of shite, but it’s going to be relevant later.]

No, I don’t think anyone thought about it to that level of detail (or any level of detail, really).

Even then, let’s think about this: Draco and Astoria have a child around the same age as everyone else in their cohort. Obviously that’s contrived so that we can have stories about all of the children (fucking epilogue bullshit), and Rowling couldn’t change it because she set that in stone in the epilogue. But it also doesn’t give them time for rumours of infertility to be starting. Harry’s explicitly stated to be thirty-seven earlier, so that would’ve made Draco and Astoria what, twenty-six and twenty-four when they had Scorpius? That’s pretty young. [It’s young these days, but in Rowling’s generation that was probably quite old and if you weren’t married and pregnant by 20 you were doing it wrong.]

ROSE: The rumor is that he’s Voldemort’s son, Albus.
A horrible, uncomfortable silence.
[ROSE:] It’s probably rubbish. I mean . . . look, you’ve got a nose.
The tension is slightly broken. SCORPIUS laughs, pathetically grateful.
SCORPIUS: And it’s just like my father’s! I got his nose, his hair, and his name. Not that that’s a great thing either. I mean — father-son issues, I have them. But, on the whole, I’d rather be a Malfoy than, you know, the son of the Dark Lord.

I can’t decide if this is charmingly precocious or horribly written, because Scorpius really doesn’t sound like an eleven-year-old here. [And how does Rose know Voldy didn’t have a nose?]

Rose continues to be nasty, tries to get Albus to leave. Albus knows the plot and decides he wants to be friends, so he stays. After Rose leaves, their dialogue is actually somewhat cute. End scene.

I’m only on page 17. Send help. [I’m so glad it’s you doing this. Sorry dear.]

Scene four.

We open with, yet again, what I find to be a peculiar stage direction (and written in weirdly purple prose).

And now we enter a never-world of time change. And this scene is all about magic. The changes are rapid as we leap between worlds. There are no individual scenes, but fragments, shards that show the constant progression of time.

This sounds like they want to be writing for film and doing a montage scene, but I’m having a hard time imagining that working well on an actual stage. At the very least it’s going to be challenging from a technical perspective to get all the transitions working, actors might need to change costumes very quickly, etc. I suppose it’s a good thing Rowling’s filthy rich and has name recognition (not to mention hordes of rabid fans willing to pay through the nose to see this shit) so they can throw money at the theatre to make this happen.

More weirdness:

The SORTING HAT walks through the students, who spring into their Houses. […] He puts his hat on ROSE’s head.

Sounds like there’s a person playing the Sorting Hat, but his hat is the actual sorting hat? What the fuck.

[I don’t know why they did this. Is there some problem with a teacher carrying the hat now?]

Also, what I’ve elided there is that we also get a new Sorting Hat poem-song, and again it doesn’t. fucking. scan. It’s thankfully only two stanzas, mercifully short compared to the ones in the books themselves, but someone’s actually going to be saying this onstage. In public. Couldn’t they have put in just a bit more effort to make the metre consistent?

Rose goes to Gryffindor, and actually says “Thank Dumbledore”. Really. Rowling, I know Dumbledore was your god-insert, but can we try for a bit of subtlety here? [Ew. Though it brings up a point, where are the portraits? Dumbles’ portrait would absolutely stalk Harry’s kids.]

Scorpius goes to Slytherin.

Albus goes to Slytherin and we have ALL TEH DRAMAS. The stage directions go on and on about what a profound awful silence there is. Then students start talking about how bizarre it is to have a Potter in Slytherin and someone (who’d previously said Albus looked like his father) retracts that and says “I suppose his hair isn’t that similar.” I guess the parallel works okay to highlight the hypocrisy, but this is really blatant and melodramatic. For fuck’s sake, let’s try to remember we’re assigning dormitories here (god I hate the Sorting), not putting yellow stars on a quarter of the students and sending them off to work camps.

“And suddenly a flying lesson is happening with MADAM HOOCH.” Couldn’t have said that better myself. [I’d be breaking out a bottle of hooch too. I’m surprised she’s still there though, I know witches live a long time but surely she could have found a more interesting job by now.]

Albus sucks at flying and everyone makes fun of him for being Slytherin and not like his father.

Immediately after that they transition back to platform 9 3/4 for another scene. I thought at first maybe this was meant to be the students going home for Christmas, but it seems to actually be a year later already. We’re treated to an awkward conversation between Albus and Harry, about Albus feeling like a disappointment for being in Slytherin (and James comes along to make fun of Albus for that very thing while they talk). This is actually competently written, I think, except for the fact that it’s a year later and we’re expected to believe they’ve never discussed this before? They’ve been home all summer, at the very least. Anyway, Harry’s an idiot and really isn’t very good at comforting his son or even really listening to him.

Exit children. Enter Draco. He wants Harry/the Ministry to release a statement about the time turners to help clear up that the rumours are baseless. Harry waves him off with, essentially, “don’t feed the trolls”. I don’t blame Draco being annoyed with him.

Back to the children. Rose is still being unpleasant over Scorpius. Then things move pretty rapidly, we get an announcement that Rose has made the Quidditch team (Professor McGonagall – is she headmistress? it doesn’t say – apparently failing to be unbiased over this) [imagine my surprise…], a single potions lesson with some bickering and then this heavy-handed line:

SCORPIUS: Okay. What’s the counter-ingredient? What do we need to change?
ALBUS: Everything.

I’m actually not sure whether to consider that decent foreshadowing or an anvil to the head.

We’re moving quickly, they’re back at the station starting year three now. Albus is miserable and arguing with Harry, who’s pretty unsympathetic. Albus runs off, goes to Scorpius who’s just learnt his mother died (apparently she was ill? Draco’d mentioned “she hadn’t been well” when asking Harry for help but I’m honestly surprised they meant that to mean deadly illness). Then, mood whiplash! Another sorting (and another rhyme; this one scans, at least, but it’s still pretty bad). Lily goes to Gryffindor. Albus decides to make this about himself and complain that he didn’t choose to be Harry’s son. Ah, teenage melodrama.

Scene five.

This scene takes us to Harry’s office at the Ministry. Hermione’s already there, and Harry comes in with a cosmetic injury, apparently returning from a mission/raid of some sort. The conversation here is pretty good, in the sense that it conveys what they’re talking about without falling into ‘As you know, Bob’ (although a lot of things do rely on knowledge from having read the books, I think this play would be pretty opaque to anyone not already familiar with series details).

In short: he’s arrested Theodore Nott for… something, and confiscated a Time-Turner. Which is completely special and different from other Time-Turners. Explicitly:

HARRY: And you’re sure you want to keep it?
HERMIONE: I don’t think we’ve a choice. Look at it. It’s entirely different to the Time-Turner I had.
HARRY (dry): Apparently wizardry has moved on since we were kids.

They talk a bit about Harry’s tendency not to do paperwork. Hermione reveals in conversation that she is Minister for Magic (interestingly, “Minister for Magic”, not “Minister of Magic”, that went back and forth in the books as I recall). I do like that Hermione’s his boss; less so that it seems like he’s still letting her do most of his work for him, she deliberately says she’s not scolding him and then tells him to take more time off to be with his family. [One gets the impression she’s been telling him to spend time with his family for years while watching the spare non-parent-clone child getting more and more screwed up. Or else that she just doesn’t want him near her any more, which is entirely reasonable.]

Overall, though, a decent scene and nothing particularly objectionable. Except that bloody Time-turner has shown up, and we know what that means.

Scene six.

Scene five was a nice reprieve from the awfulness but it’s back in full force now. We’re at the Potter residence (incidentally, not told more than that; a lot of fanon has them live at Grimmauld Place and it’d have been interesting if this confirmed or refuted that) and Albus has inherited his father’s penchant for eavesdropping.

Amos Diggory’s shown up at the house (in the middle of the night, which even Harry points out is off) because he can’t get an appointment to meet with Harry at the Ministry. Harry’s making excuses.

This dialogue is awful.

Anyway, Diggory is pissed off at Harry (I’m not sure if he explicitly blames Harry for Cedric’s death but he’s certainly skirting around it and that seems to be what Harry hears), and wants the Time-Turner so he can go back to save Cedric (apparently he’s “heard rumor” (sic) that the Ministry seized and kept it. What is it with this story and rumours.). Harry brushes him off and says the rumours aren’t true.

[How are there rumours? Did Harry’s team announce it to the world when they took it off Nott? This is not a rumour, it’s an information leak, and Harry really ought to be finding out which subordinate blabbed to someone in a pub.]

Suddenly we’re back with Albus, who’s been discovered.

ALBUS jumps a mile as DELPHI — a twenty-something, determined-looking woman — is revealed, looking through the stairs at him.

I’ll try not to be prejudiced based on what I already know of this character, but that’s going to be hard. I’m not looking forward to this.

She introduces herself to Albus as ‘Delphini Diggory’ and that name already irritates me (Rowling and friends sure do love alliteration, don’t they). ‘Delphini’ looks weird to me but it’s not an invented word, it’s the plural of Latin delphinus meaning dolphin (though honestly, ‘delphinus’ just makes me think of a certain flying battleship). Her name is literally Dolphins. Though it is also an astronomical name, Delphinus is a constellation and Alpha Delphini is a prominent multiple star in it. And I am giving serious side-eye to the nickname being Delphi, given certain Greek oracles (we know Rowling’s had a tendency to name characters after oracles before).

[I’ve encountered Delphine as a name, but not Delphini. Sounds more like a surname than a forename.]

In this scene, she actually comes across as pretty likeable. She talks a lot like Tonks, and is snarkily unserious with Albus. Then she trips down the stairs and I’m even more convinced she’s a Tonks clone and much less inclined to be charitable (what’s with all these clumsy female characters anyway?). [Oh God it’s Bella fucking Swan. As if this character wasn’t enough of a Sue already.] At least the script itself doesn’t seem to mention her implausible hair colour?

Apparently she’s Diggory’s niece and also works in the old-age-home where he lives (she calls him her patient so I guess she’s some kind of nurse). She seems to have intrigued Albus (somehow; the stage directions indicate her smiling at him twice) and invites him to visit them at the home sometime.

I’m also questioning why Diggory’s in an old-age home, and requiring a wheelchair (I wouldn’t have thought Potterverse wizards even used wheelchairs honestly, shouldn’t they just enchant a regular chair to move?). [Or use magic to fix the reason the chair is needed?] He wasn’t presented as a particularly young man in Goblet of Fire, but I wouldn’t have guessed him older than his forties then (which would put him, at maximum, early seventies now). And we know wizards have extended lifespans compared to non-magicals. So this just flat-out doesn’t make sense, unless he has some kind of incurable degenerative disease (and then you’d think they’d mention that instead of just saying he’s elderly and in a wheelchair).

Scene seven.

Still at the Potters’ house. We begin with some irrelevant family bickering, then Harry shows up to “deliver pre-Hogwarts gifts”. He gives Albus A LOVE POTION from Ron. Yes, a fucking love potion (I mean date rape potion who are we kidding), which in any sensible world should be an illegal or heavily controlled substance. He tries to claim it’s a joke and that he doesn’t understand Ron’s sense of humour, that the other children got joke gifts from him too.

[…what. You didn’t tell me this. WHAT. And my immediate follow-up question would be why Hermione didn’t stop him, except I fear we’re looking at the answer right now. Oh God.]

The rest of this scene… I’m really struggling to summarise this in any way that makes sense, because it’s incredibly stupid (and also lots of virtual ink has already been spilt over this).

Harry’s given each of his children a gift. James got the Invisibility Cloak (what? why? Harry’s excuse is literally “he’s been obsessed with it forever”), Lily gets “fairy wings” (so basically a sparkly Halloween/cosplay outfit) [because she’s a girl and all girls like sparkly things] and Albus gets… Harry’s disgusting old comfort blanket (which we’ve never heard of before but apparently means a lot to him). Because he wanted a gift that “meant something”. This is like Homer Simpson’s infamous bowling ball (a “gift” for his wife with his own name engraved on because he knows she’ll give it back to him).

Harry waffles on a bit about this thing, how he came to have it (apparently it’s the one he was wrapped in when he was abandoned, Petunia saved it, and Dudley found it after she died and sent it to him), and how he believes it’s a good luck charm and therefore gave it to Albus.

ALBUS: And do what with it? Fairy wings make sense, Dad, invisibility cloaks, they also make sense — but this — really?

Albus, I don’t really think fairy wings make sense either, but otherwise I’m entirely with you here (also, I thought fairy wings were pretty tiny and something you used for potions ingredients). Anyway, they keep arguing.

HARRY: Albus, please — you know, I’ve never wanted gratitude.
ALBUS: But right now I’m overflowing with it — it must be the kind gift of this moldy blanket that did it . . .

Not a huge fan of Albus as a character so far, but I’m liking the snark in this scene. [I think he inherited it from one of his namesakes.] And I’m entirely on his side because seriously, Harry’s not even trying to be a decent parent here. He’s just spouting off a lot of platitudes and projecting his own emotions onto Albus, then being shocked when that doesn’t work. [Though he shouldn’t be shocked. I remember him telling us once that Aunt Marge bought Dudley a designer watch and gave him a packet of dog biscuits one Christmas. Presumably he forgot that he was less than thrilled about it.] This ends predictably:

ALBUS: No! I just wish you weren’t my dad.
HARRY (seeing red): Well, there are times I wish you weren’t my son.

And a bit later on:

ALBUS picks up the blanket and throws it. It collides with RON’s love potion, which spills all over the blanket and the bed, producing a small puff of smoke.

I’m assuming this is going to matter for something, because it’s obviously a Chekhov’s gun. A very, very stupid one, but it has to be. I really don’t know what the inevitable bullshit payoff of this thing is going to be.

Scene eight.

It’s a dream scene. Everyone loves those, right? Flashing back to the “Yer a wizard, Harry” island scene. There are some slight variations but I can’t be bothered to do a line-by-line comparison with Philosopher’s Stone (book or film) right now.

Among differences I notice: Vernon refers to Hagrid as a “scarramanger”. I have no idea what that is. Google and online dictionaries are no help, trying to correct it to “scaremonger” (or to Scaramanga, the Bond villain). I do find some things by that name in a general Google search, but it looks like a surname of some kind. [Maybe it’s a typo, I’m not coming up with anything either. Maybe it’s just acknowledging that Vernon wasn’t in his right mind at that point.]

And the signature line is changed to this:

HAGRID: Harry — yer a wizard — yeh changed everything. Yer the most famous wizard in the whole world.

Presumably foreshadowing the time-travel bullshit. And from there, immediately after, the stage directions indicate Voldemort’s “unmistakable” voice hisses “Harry Potter”.

How is this voice supposed to be “unmistakable”, exactly, when Voldemort has never said anything in the play yet? I assume what they mean is “it’ll sound like Voldemort from the films so fans should recognise it” but that’s really quite different.

Scene nine.

Harry wakes up. It was all a dream (and a waste of my time, presumably). Harry feels pain in his scar, that thing the epilogue told us had never and would never happen again.

Harry and Ginny are talking in bed. He’s trying not to tell her what’s worrying him, but ends up doing some angsting about Amos Diggory, then about how badly he’s cocked things up with his son. Harry’s still being a pretty terrible person, he sort of understands he handled it badly but isn’t able to question his underlying assumptions.

At one point he quotes Dumbledore. “The truth is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution.” Sounds like Dumbledore but off the top of my head I can’t recall whether it’s actually something he said in the books, and I don’t feel like looking. [It’s definitely a Dumbles quote, though I forget where it’s from as well.]

Harry tries and fails to hide that his scar’s hurting again, and tells Ginny it’s been 22 years since the last time that happened. [Unless she’s forgotten how to count since leaving school, she already knows this, surely.]

At least the dialogue in this scene was well-written and sounded like actual people.

Scene ten.

Back on the Hogwarts Express with the children. Rose is trying to talk to Albus – she claims she wants to be friends again but it’s apparently on her parents’ orders. Also, she knows about the Time-Turner somehow and tells Albus about it; he immediately decides he has to go talk to Scorpius.

There’s a weird line where Scorpius tells Rose she smells like bread. I don’t know either, so I’ll just leave that there. If I had to read it, so do you. [What, no ‘half-baked’ pun? You’re slipping.]

After Rose leaves, Albus starts forming crazy plans. Beginning with “we have to get off this train”, yes, while it is moving. They talk about the Triwizard Tournament and Cedric Diggory, who Albus has decided he wants to save for some reason (honestly, it sounds like he also blames Harry for not being able to save him, and also for brushing Amos off, despite that CLEARLY BEING THE PRUDENT THING TO DO). Scorpius thinks he’s gone crazy, and I agree (honestly, Scorpius’ lines in this scene are pretty good).

Albus climbs out the window of the train and Scorpius reluctantly follows him. Yes, really.

Scene eleven.

Oh my god, this scene is so stupid.

Scene twelve. oh fine, I’ll talk about it.

They are on top of the train. Albus is planning, trying to figure out where they should jump off to be closest to St Oswald’s Home for Old Witches and Wizards (oh, yes, I forgot to mention the name before), and talking about cushioning charms. Scorpius is still trying to talk him out of it, and his lines here are actually pretty cute.

The “trolley witch” (who sells the snacks on the train) finds them. Yes, she is pushing the trolley on top of the train. This is meant to be *magical* and *mysterious* or something. They talk to her; she claims to have been doing that job for 190 years (which is apparently also how long there’s been a Hogwarts Express) and then basically turns into an eldritch abomination. Because “THIS TRAIN – IT DOESN’T LIKE PEOPLE GETTING OFF IT…”. She tries to frighten them by turning a pumpkin pasty into an explosive and throwing it, turning her hands into spikes, and asking them to return to their seats.

They jump off the train.

THIS IS STUPID.

[I actually quite like the idea that the trolley witch is evil. Clearly she spikes the snacks with pro-Dumbledore happy drugs before the kids even get to school. The Slytherins aren’t affected because they’re rich enough to bring their own food.]

Scene twelve.

In the “grand meeting room” of the Ministry of Magic (have we ever heard about this before?). Hermione’s apparently called a meeting to discuss the possibility of Voldemort being back.

Oh yeah, she also says this: “I’m delighted to say there is a new generation being brought up having known only the slightest conflict.” Ha ha ha laughter. Pull the other one, Hermione, that line is a masterwork of Dumbledorean bullshittery and you should know better. [We all but know Ron’s drugging her now. That must affect your mind.]

Harry says “Voldemort’s allies” have been moving about recently (by this he means trolls, giants and werewolves). These are still “Voldemort’s allies”? Dear old Voldy’s been dead for twenty-two years, they can’t have continued being his allies after he died, surely you have a better way of referring to these groups? I’d even accept “Voldemort’s former allies”.

Professor McGonagall (who is there for some reason) mentions some boomslang skin and lacewing flies are missing from the Hogwarts potions stores, but they just blamed Peeves and thought nothing of it. WHAT. AN. IDIOT. [Somewhere in the afterlife Snape is facepalming.]

Let’s discuss that one in a bit more detail. McGonagall in particular must know about at least one incident when those ingredients were stolen – she was present in GoF when they interrogated Crouch!Moody under Veritaserum, and he explained he was stealing those to make his Polyjuice. It’s possible Hermione’s theft of them went unnoticed. But even then… HERMIONE is also in the room hearing this, she’s the one chairing this meeting and she is also very familiar with fucking Polyjuice. Does she say anything about the implication of those ingredients being missing? No, of course not. Just “Thank you, Professor. We shall investigate.” For fuck’s sake.

Hermione mentions Harry’s scar, and then Harry asks “those of you with a Dark Mark” (not clear if any are present except Draco, or who that would be if so) if there’s been any reaction. Draco flips out and accuses Harry of being prejudiced against them. Then he goes on to accuse Harry of just wanting his name in the papers, and Hermione of giving him special treatment for being her friend.

Ron “charges at” Draco and has to be restrained by Ginny, then threatens to punch him, because Ron.

Draco’s real motive comes out – he’s afraid this talk about Voldemort will cause a resurgence in the rumours about Scorpius. He leaves, and enough people follow that this ends the meeting.

For fuck’s sake, all of these characters are acting like idiotic caricatures of themselves. Even Draco, whose motive is understandable, is going out of his way to be as unsympathetic as possible and hit all of the talking points that were used against Harry in the main series. And let’s face it, Harry talking about Voldemort now really would come across as alarmist (with how certain the books’ narration was that he was gone for good, and that bloody epilogue, we can be sure that would be the official story).

This whole scene is really weird to be honest – Hermione seems to think the meeting was for the purpose of developing a strategy to deal with possible Voldemort return, but it’s seemingly open to the general public and honestly comes off looking more like a press conference than anything (Harry and Hermione are on a podium addressing a crowd). I’m not sure what Draco’s role is meant to be (we’ve not been told anything about e.g. his profession if any), he’s literally just an audience heckler who takes over the meeting.

Adults are useless! Even if they used to be children who did things! Fucking hell.

Scene thirteen.

Very short scene, but full of stupid. Here is the description given to set the scene.

This is chaos. This is magic. This is St. Oswald’s Home for Old Witches and Wizards and it is as wonderful as you might hope.
Walker frames are conjured into life, knitting wool is enchanted into chaos, and male nurses are made to dance tango.
These are people relieved of the burden of having to do magic for a reason — instead these witches and wizards do magic for fun. And what fun they have.
ALBUS and SCORPIUS enter, looking around themselves, amused, and let’s face it, slightly scared.

I’m quoting this verbatim because I have no idea what to do with it. That does not sound wonderful to me. It just sounds like more of the childish bullshit that the Potterverse has always been, that Rowling falls back on whenever she wants to depict something as “fun”. Also, I refuse to believe that Potterverse wizards refuse to do magic “for fun” during their normal lifetimes.

[…male nurses are forced to dance? WTF is that about? Is this implying that the senile old people are using Imperio against the staff, or something? Because that’s a bit of a concern.]

That really is the implication, isn’t it? It’s creepy. There’s something very disturbing about how basically everything Rowling et al think of as “fun” manifests as “pranks” that involve doing unpleasant things to other people against their will. (Recommended reading: everything Melissa McEwan has ever written about pranks)

Albus and Scorpius show up and mention they’re looking for Amos Diggory. Delphi greets them. End of scene.

Scene fourteen.

Amos Diggory doesn’t trust their offer of help, and who could blame him? These kids are nuts. (This whole plot is nuts.) Scorpius takes this as an opportunity to try to back out (good on him!) but Albus is having none of it; Delphi eventually convinces Amos with the simple argument that nobody else is offering help, and “didn’t you say yourself, having someone inside Hogwarts might be a massive advantage?”. I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean, or what Hogwarts is supposed to have to do with this exercise in tilting at windmills.

Amos suggests Delphi go with them, and they go on about how this is going to be super dangerous and they’ll be risking their lives. Albus agrees with this (why’s he in Slytherin anyway? He’s been acting like an idiot Gryffindor this entire play), Scorpius is reluctant.

Scene fifteen.

At the Potters’ house, Harry and Ginny are having dinner with Ron and Hermione, and they’re discussing Draco. They’re really unsympathetic to him.

GINNY: I wrote to him — after he lost Astoria — to ask if there’s anything we could do. I thought maybe — as he was such a good friend to Albus — maybe Scorpius might want to stay over part of the Christmas break or . . . My owl came back with a letter containing one simple sentence: “Tell your husband to refute these allegations about my son once and for all.”
HERMIONE: He’s obsessed.

I really don’t understand why they can’t just make an official statement about this, except that the conflict engendered by these stupid rumours is driving the plot.

Ron goes on for a while about how all this Voldemort stuff is probably nothing, Harry’s probably just getting old, etc etc, playing the denialist to the hilt. He’s being obnoxiously Ron about all of this, and it’s annoying and stupid, but honestly, they don’t really have much evidence at all.

HERMIONE: I mean it, Harry, I will not be Cornelius Fudge on this one. I will not stick my head in the sand. And I don’t care how unpopular that makes me with Draco Malfoy.

Very nice sentiment, Hermione. How about that Polyjuice you completely ignored?

They get an owl from McGonagall saying Albus and Scorpius never arrived at school. End scene.

Scene sixteen.

Albus, Scorpius, and Delphi are in a cellar. They have Polyjuice potion. They bicker about it a while, Scorpius complains he doesn’t want to take it because it tastes of fish (which, IIRC, contradicts canon, in the books we were told the flavour changes depending on the person you’re transforming into. Not that I liked that, mind, it gave Rowling an excuse to tell us some characters were better than others because magic says so, but it’s still a contradiction).

Delphi becomes Hermione, Albus becomes Ron and Scorpius becomes Harry. (Actually, I’m pretty curious how they did this effect in a stage play.)

Is there a reason they’ve done this along gendered lines? (We saw the Trio do the same thing in Chamber of Secrets and again in Deathly Hallows, though some women transformed into Harry in that stupid scene earlier in Deathly Hallows so we know it’s not a requirement…) [The reason is ‘because Rowling’.]

There’s some awkwardness. They’re making jokes. I don’t care.

They go into the Ministry through the main entrance and meet with no resistance whatsoever, because security in the Wizarding World is terrible. There’s some precedent for this in the DH Gringotts break-in, but it’s still stupid, and you’d think (again) a Ministry run by BLOODY HERMIONE would be aware of Polyjuice potion and the security risk it poses.

THIS IS STUPID! [Still blaming Ron having been drugging her for the last twenty years. For my sanity’s sake if nothing else. I knew I was right not to read this crap.]

Scene seventeen.

In a meeting room at the Ministry. Harry, Hermione, Ginny and Draco are discussing the disappearances. This line infuriates me:

HERMIONE: None so far. I have made the Muggle Prime Minister aware and he is filing what is known as a misper. Sounds like a spell. It isn’t.

HERMIONE IS NOT ARTHUR WEASLEY STOP WRITING HER LIKE HIM.

(I assume she means somebody abbreviated “Missing Persons Report” but this is not humourous and I am not laughing.) [I have never heard of that abbreviation and I used to watch a lot of police procedurals.] Neither have I, but I suppose it stands to reason.

Draco’s not keen on reaching out to Muggles for help. Hermione mentions they’re investigating Death Eater channels, Draco says he knows it’s nothing to do with them.

There’s a lot of anger and arguing, especially once Harry reveals the argument he had with Albus, because they think that’s why they ran away. Draco offers to contribute all of his money if it will help because Scorpius is his only family, which is honestly kind of touching; Hermione just brushes him off says the Ministry has enough money. I don’t think I like this iteration of Hermione very much.

We end on this line:

DRACO: I don’t care what you did or who you saved, you are a constant curse on my family, Harry Potter.

I know how you feel, Draco.

Scene eighteen.

The children, under Polyjuice, are in the Ministry. They’re acting badly to throw off guards (they keep name-dropping that ‘Hermione’ is Minister), and somehow it works. All the while they’re discussing their plans. Apparently the Time-Turner is kept in Hermione’s office, and we’re going to have something of a rehash of the Trio trying to get Slytherin’s locket from Umbridge.

They come across the actual Harry and Hermione, who’ve left the meeting in the previous scene. They can’t find a place to hide, and decide Albus as Ron has to go distract Hermione while they go into her office (incidentally, they use fucking Alohomora and that gets them inside, this Hermione is rubbish at security).

What follows is incredibly cringeworthy and creepy and I hate it. Essentially, he distracts her by flirting and kissing her.[…oh God no. Hello explicit sexual assault, that was clearly something missing from this clusterfuck.]

And also tries to talk to them about the “I wish you weren’t my son” conversation, nearly giving himself away in the process. Then Harry leaves, Hermione tries to go into her office and he blocks her again. She’s suspicious but still fooled by his incredibly stupid bullshit, which includes suggesting she and Ron have another baby (WTF?!!) and more kissing. SHE NOTICES THE FISH TASTE but doesn’t put things together from that either. [More evidence that Ron’s been giving her love potion for the last two decades. I hate this.]

Hermione leaves and Albus-Ron goes into the office. End scene.

I really don’t know what to say about this except it’s incredibly creepy and awful and rapey and how does somebody write this. I don’t care if it’s Rowling or Thorne: whoever you are, you are an awful person and you should feel bad. Likewise if you are a spectator who enjoyed this.

Scene nineteen.

Inside the office. Albus is exhausted from the effort and the others congratulate him. They talk about the kissing, even praising his supposed nerve for doing it, and Albus’ excuse is “Ron’s an affectionate guy”. [And either Ron’s a really bad kisser or Albus is weirdly experienced.] This play is really selling Ron/Hermione as an abusive mess of a relationship, and in fairness I don’t think it’s wrong about that.

Albus and Scorpius talk about their daddy issues while they’re supposed to be searching for the Time-Turner.

Eventually they find Hermione’s stash of restricted books (which have some really stupid titles, as Rowling loves to do with books in the Potterverse. Seriously, one of them is even called “The Imperius Curse and How to Abuse It”).

The key turns out to be a book, ostensibly “My Eyes and How to See Past Them” by Sibyll Trelawney (I’m trying and failing to figure out what the fuck that title is supposed to mean; I think it being by Trelawney is meant to be a clue that it doesn’t belong, though) but which isn’t really a book. They open it and it speaks riddles at them.

What follows is a melodramatic nonsense scene which I’d rather not describe. Essentially, they realise these riddles are how she hid the Time-Turner and they need to solve them to find it, each riddle they solve leads to another book, which gives another riddle, and so forth. There’s some kind of magical chaos and they have some kind of struggle, their Polyjuices wear off as they go; in the end they eventually find a book which has the Time-Turner inside.

Here ends Act One.

That’s Act One of Part One, which means we have three more acts of this bullshit to go. But that’s enough for one post, I think, especially considering I’m nearing seven thousand words about this rubbish. For reference, in the edition I am using I have reached page 58 of 191, so there’s quite a lot still to go.

I don’t know what to say about this so far. Honestly, the content is pretty unrelentingly awful, it really does come across as mediocre fanfic at best. The dialogue occasionally manages to be good, there are some exchanges that I think would probably work well in a play and some well-written snappy comebacks etc (which, in fairness, Rowling has managed often in the books too), but there’s also a lot of really awkward and stupid dialogue to balance that out.

Suffice it to say that so far, I am not impressed. And I’m expecting it’s all downhill from here, but not in the good way (downhill in terms of quality, and I already feel like Sisyphus).

I reiterate: send help. [Please.]

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18 Comments

Posted by on August 4, 2016 in mitchell

 

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18 responses to “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a Read-along (Act One)

  1. liminal fruitbat

    August 4, 2016 at 7:48 pm

    Then immediately they discuss the rumour that Scorpius is really Voldemort’s son, conceived via Time-Turner

    Where would this rumour come from? Who makes this shit up? Even Rita Skeeter’s writing was sort of traceable to quasi-plausible interpretations of the facts. Is there any point to this whole thing besides especially clumsy foreshadowing?

    He gives Albus A LOVE POTION from Ron.

    Welp.

    Professor McGonagall (who is there for some reason) mentions some boomslang skin and lacewing flies are missing from the Hogwarts potions stores, but they just blamed Peeves and thought nothing of it.

    Presumably it was Delphi who stole them, since Albus and Harry left the train before they got to Hogwarts, but why? Why not just buy some? Is Hogwarts somehow the only place you can get these ingredients?

    HERMIONE: He’s obsessed.

    Yeah, how dare Draco be upset that people think his wife slept with Magic Hitler!

    Essentially, he distracts her by flirting and kissing her.

    SHE IS HIS AUNT*. THIS IS UNBELIEVABLY CREEPY.

    * By marriage, but still.

    Seriously, one of them is even called “The Imperius Curse and How to Abuse It”).

    As opposed to all the ways to use it non-abusively?

    Is this a normal play or The King In Yellow?

     
    • mcbender

      August 4, 2016 at 9:27 pm

      I can’t figure out where this “rumour” is supposed to have come from either. Thus far the play has never suggested a source, it just exists out in the aether somewhere like rumours apparently do. I can only assume someone’s been maliciously spreading it out of dislike for Draco (okay, maybe Ron’s stupid enough to do that), but then there’s also the question of why anyone considers it plausible enough to repeat.

      I don’t know what narrative purpose that’s meant to serve either. Scorpius does get a decent line when trying to dissuade Albus from his plans (something like “for obvious reasons I don’t really like Time-Turners…”), but that can’t be why it was included in the first place. I think, as you say, it’s meant to be foreshadowing (I think they wanted to get the idea of Voldemort being able to father a child into audience consciousness, honestly, despite the fact he obviously shouldn’t have been able to).

      Another weird thing about the rumours, when Draco’s complaining about them he only ever does so about the effect they’re having on his son. Which I suppose is better than if he were primarily concerned about his own reputation and not being seen as a cuckold, but at the same time the play never seems to consider that those rumours could be hurting Draco and/or Astoria in addition to Scorpius. Where is any acknowledgment that Astoria might not like being treated like a Dark Lord sympathiser (which we’ve never had any indication she was), let alone being thought the sort of person who’d sleep with him? She dies of illness but Draco never wonders if the stress of these rumours affected her immune system or something. I’m annoyed enough the play treats Astoria as a nonentity, she’s just there to be Sainted Dead Mother for Scorpius and is killed off before appearing on stage. (So progressive, this play.)

      Loten and I were talking about the love potion thing earlier, and there’s a lot more I could have said about it. First is the question of what the hell Ron might have been thinking: Harry in the scene implies Ron thought Albus was lonely and it might help (so… “Hey, nephew, I heard you’re lonely. Ever consider raping someone?”). Also, Albus is thirteen here. I didn’t think this play could make me hate Ron more than I already did, but it continues to prove me wrong. The saddest thing is that Ron’s gift of rape juice still manages to be a more thoughtful gift than Harry’s.

      I’m assuming we’re meant to think Delphi’s the one who stole the Polyjuice ingredients also (they were missing long before the train scene), yes. That said, you’re quite right it’s peculiar they seem to think Hogwarts is the only place those are available. Similarly, Delphi is not a Hogwarts student so it’s peculiar that’s where she’d choose to get them.

      About Albus kissing his aunt: yes, it’s unbelievably creepy. They also explicitly mention she’s his aunt in the text but barely react to that at all (Scorpius says “I don’t know whether I should high-five or frown at you for kissing your aunt about five hundred times”, ugh).

      I love your comparison to The King in Yellow. I don’t think my sanity’s going to get through this intact.

       
      • liminal fruitbat

        August 4, 2016 at 10:38 pm

        About Albus kissing his aunt: yes, it’s unbelievably creepy. They also explicitly mention she’s his aunt in the text but barely react to that at all

        If only it carried on imitating the Ring Cycle and burned down the setting.

         
  2. All-I-need

    August 4, 2016 at 11:39 pm

    I am honestly so grateful to you for reading this. Every single sentence only confirmed my decision not to get anywhere near this book. I thought reading the summary you linked to in your previous post about this clusterfuck was already a horrible experience, but the actual thing seems to be even worse. And yet I see a lot of comments online about how amazing the play is and how much everyone loved it. I really don’t get it. Perhaps they also drug the audience in the theatre? Considering the content of the books and this play, they certainly don’t seem opposed to such means.

    Re: Delphi stealing the ingredients from Hogwarts – how the hell did she even get in there if she’s not a student? Hogwarts is warded, you can’t just march in and find your way (remember how students aren’t given maps and get lost all the time in their first couple of weeks?). Never mind that someone with her appearance would no doubt be noticed. I really don’t get any of this.

    As an aside, I also don’t get why the snack trolley lady is on the roof of the train – she’s unlikely to find any students up there who want to actually buy stuff from her and there’s also the fact that being on a moving train is incredibly dangerous and the mere physics will make her merchandise fly away (and possibly smack her in the face). How did she get the trolley up there? Or did she leave it behind, which somehow makes her presence up there make even less sense?

    No comment on Albus kissing Hermione, this is just wrong.

    I do have a sudden need for a fanfiction in which Snape is alive and figures out that Ron has been drugging Hermione for years. I wonder what he’d do with that information, having been manipulated and made to do things against his will for years himself. If anyone decides to write that, please send me the link.

     
    • liminal fruitbat

      August 4, 2016 at 11:47 pm

      As an aside, I also don’t get why the snack trolley lady is on the roof of the train

      To paraphrase Dan H of Ferretbrain, turning your hands into spikes is kind of cool and Harry Potter magic sucks donkey balls. This creature clearly isn’t human and is probably some kind of stupid magical construct that threatens already-endangered children with exploding food and spikes.

       
      • mcbender

        August 5, 2016 at 12:09 am

        Pretty much this.

        It explicitly says she’s got the trolley with her and actually, before she starts in with her spiel/threats about how they mustn’t leave the train she tries to sell them snacks. I think we’re supposed to believe she went after them, though, because she keeps talking about how it’s her duty to keep the children on the train until it arrives (later, apparently, Hermione claims to have interviewed her and she’s devastated to have lost her perfect “Hogwarts delivery record”).

        Yet despite her clearly coming across as an eldritch abomination/magical construct, the other characters all talk about her like she’s human (and the way she describes her history and how she came to have this job at least sounds like she started out human; that’s actually kind of horrific to think about).

        It’s utterly nonsensical though (I concur with your channelling Dan Hemmens, that does sound like the motivation behind this: someone just liked the mental image of spike-hands and threw it in). You got my unfiltered reaction. I wasn’t exaggerating much when I pretended to skip the scene and just say it was one of the stupidest things I’d ever read, I really didn’t want to think or write about it.

         
    • mcbender

      August 5, 2016 at 12:19 am

      Don’t read it. I cannot emphasise this enough: however bad you’re thinking it is, it is worse. I’m glad to be of service. I do not understand how anyone is enjoying this, unless it’s just the stage effects are super impressive and people are turning their brains off (I can well imagine that contributing, honestly, because some of the things the stage directions call for look really challenging to pull off and I’m genuinely curious what they did). Or it could be drugs.

      Very good point that Delphi shouldn’t have been able to get into Hogwarts. I don’t get it either. (For that matter, there’s also something weird about twenty-plus Delphi hanging around with two fourteen-year-old boys, and playing only an equal role in the plotting… granted, I won’t complain about that as much because I’m aware she is actually the villain, but it still triggers my sexism-radar.)

      I think I’d quite appreciate a fanfiction like that also. Although, that said… I have actually encountered abusive!Ron (I think even involving love potions) reasonably often as a fanfic trope and it’s usually executed so badly and over-the-top (think Lifetime Movie Special) that it falls flat, so while there’s a lot of potential here I can’t really hold out hope someone will do it well. If anyone does write it though, I’ll read it as well 🙂

       
      • All-I-need

        August 5, 2016 at 7:32 pm

        I shall most definitely not read it, then.

        The positive thing about this review of yours is that it immediately made me go and start re-reading the only fanfiction I accept as actual post-DH canon – Post Tenebras Lux. Huge THANK YOU to Loten for writing this masterpiece. It keeps me sane.

        I agree about the horrible abusive!Ron fics out there. I do my best to steer clear, but you never know when someone may come up with one that actually works. We shall have to keep our eyes open and if we find a suitable fic, we can spread the news and alert the fandom – or at least the thinking half of it.

         
      • Loten

        August 6, 2016 at 8:42 am

        You’re very welcome 🙂

         
    • Ymfon

      August 6, 2016 at 5:10 pm

      As an aside, I also don’t get why the snack trolley lady is on the roof of the train – she’s unlikely to find any students up there who want to actually buy stuff from her

      This is the train to Hogwarts. One quarter of the children on board are current or future Gryffindors. Of course the roof is going to be included in her standard route.

       
      • All-I-need

        August 7, 2016 at 3:45 pm

        Good point ^^ I was, however, hoping that access to the roof wouldn’t be quite that easy. Oh well.

         
  3. DawnM

    August 14, 2016 at 3:41 am

    One of the things I didn’t like about the epilogue and gets reinstated here: it seems as though Ginny had no role whatsoever in naming her children.

    It seems as though Harry has mislaid his enormous capacity for love

     
    • Loten

      August 14, 2016 at 8:02 am

      Ginny seems to have had no role in raising them, either. Or in anything else, particularly.

       
      • asyayaz

        September 6, 2016 at 7:43 am

        It’s written “Ministry for magic” in all the books

         
      • mcbender

        September 6, 2016 at 1:52 pm

        asyayaz, thanks for giving me the motivation to go check all of the books. What I found actually surprised me.

        Neither phrase appears in PS/SS at all (though “Ministry of Magic” does get mentioned). The first use of either phrase is in Chamber of Secrets, where both Bloomsbury (British) and Scholastic (American) editions use “Minister of Magic”. That use remains consistent through all of the American books. The British ones started using “Minister for Magic” instead starting in Prisoner of Azkaban and use that consistently through the rest of the books.

        From what I recall, the films used “Minister for Magic” though I’ve not gone back to check that. Cursed Child definitely used “Minister for Magic” throughout.

        As for the Ministry itself, instead of the Minister, all of the books consistently use “Ministry of Magic”.

        This is really, really bizarre. I’ve always thought “Minister for Magic” sounded better myself, but I’m not sure why it’s been changed when and where it is. I’d been prepared to believe that the change was only in the American editions, but it’s not even that simple, they used the same construct earlier on and then changed it in one but not the other. Consistency! What consistency?

         

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