Review: 'Cursed Child' has that Harry Potter magic

Elysa Gardner
@elysagardner, USA TODAY
The grown Harry Potter (Jamie Parker) confers with son Albus (Sam Clemmett) in the new London production of 'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.'

LONDON — "Apparently, wizardry's moved on since we were kids," notes Harry Potter to Hermione Granger, in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: Parts One and Two (* * * ½ out of four stars).

Childhood pals Harry and Hermione are in early middle age in this new play, presented (as the title indicates) in two full-length parts and set to open at the West End's Palace Theatre July 30, the day before its script is published in book form. It's been nine years since J.K. Rowling unveiled her last novel in the Potter series, and five since the last of the hit film adaptations, so it would betray fans to spill too many specifics here.

But whatever change transpires in Cursed Child — by playwright Jack Thorne, working from an original story co-written with Rowling and the play's director, John Tiffany — is far less essential than what has remained. That would be the smashing storytelling and layered but accessible emotional life that always fueled Harry's saga, whatever feats of magic accompanied them on the page or screen.

All grown up: Left to right, Draco Malfoy (Alex Price), Ron Weasley (Paul Thornley), Hermione Granger (Noma Dumezweni), Harry Potter (Jamie Parker) and Ginny Potter (Poppy Miller) in 'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.'

The set design for Cursed Child, by Christine Jones, is actually quite spare, its stark handsomeness an ideal canvas for the sparkling special effects (by Jeremy Chernick) and illusions (Jamie Harrison), which at one point in Part Two leave audience members literally glowing. The spectacle is delivered, in good British fashion, with discretion and without ostentation, in service of a substantive tale.

That tale involves not only forces of good and evil but the deep ambiguities between them. Looking at challenges faced by a new generation of witches and wizards, and their elders and forebears — time travel is central, with "alternate realities" and flashbacks figuring in — Cursed Child concerns itself with a very topical dilemma: the limits and dangers of righteous retaliation.

We follow friends Albus and Scorpius, the respective teenage sons of Potter and his old antagonist Draco Malfoy, as they grapple with their legacies and try to make their own mark. Anthony Boyle's Scorpius and Sam Clemmett's Albus have an instant, infectious rapport. Strikingly, the latter character seems more sullen and self-centered at first, also clashing with the nervous father who had greatness thrust upon him.

The next generation: Anthony Boyle, left, and Sam Clemmett as Scorpius Malfoy and Harry Potter in 'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.'

The grown Harry (a pensive but robust Jamie Parker) makes mistakes, as his wife, the former Ginny Weasley (Poppy Miller, subtle and potent) and Albus remind him. The boy who lived is now also a man with a keen sense of survivor's guilt. But he has the benefit of devoted friends; even Draco becomes an ally, though Alex Price's dry performance ensures he's never too cuddly for credibility.

Paul Thornley's Ron Weasley is just as convincing as a lovable goofball, while Noma Dumezweni. gives Hermione, Ron's wife, a gravitas befitting her inevitable high stature, but also a delightful wit.

Perfection is impossible in this messy world, we're assured by a familiar, beloved authority figure who pops up in Cursed Child; love is the best we can manage. For all the twists taken in Parts One and Two — several of which drew gasps at a recent pair of previews — this much is never in doubt.