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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – The Review #KeepTheSecrets

THIS IS NOT SPOILER FREE. I REPEAT, NOT SPOILER FREE. IF YOU HAVEN’T READ CURSED CHILD, TURN BACK NOW. (and then come back later)

I’m in a difficult place with this review. There are so many wonderful things about Cursed Child and a few not so wonderful things, and above all, I really think it needs to be seen on stage to truly appreciate it and I currently have no idea where I will be next week, never mind next year, when the current tickets are selling for. (You can buy them here if you are interested).

I’m going to try and break it down, and bear in mind that this is my childhood and it’s Jo’s world, we just get to read it.

The General Complaints 

  1. It’s too difficult to read as a script 

Just no. It’s not. You knew it was a script when you pre-ordered it. It says on the cover ‘Special Edition Rehearsal Script’. You knew it was a play in the West End, so what on earth would make you think it’s a novel??

It’s not too hard to read and you can quite easily forget that it’s a script, and if it helps (which I certainly think it does when reading a play) read it aloud.

2. It’s not what I was expecting 

No, and it wasn’t what I was expecting either. But cast your mind back to getting Deathly Hallows in 2007 and your expectations for that. Did any of us expect Hedwig to die? Or Dobby? Or FRED?? Did we expect Snape to be the good guy all along? Did we expect half the things that Jo wrote?

No. But you just have to trust in Jo’s ideas. After all, in 2007 she was the only one who knew what happened 19 years later. We’re just beyond lucky that she chose to share it with us.

3. It reads too much like Fanfiction 

Okay, this I agree with in part. It does feel like its something that ‘iluvRonmione96’ might have conjured up to satisfy their cravings for more of HP. But maybe that’s because reading it in script form doesn’t allow it to fully shine through the way a performance would. I really and truly think that the real magic lies in the spectacle.

Which leads me nicely to…

My Complaints 

  1. Who the hell is Delphi Diggory?? 

Okay, I know that the story needed a BIG BAD so we could have a BIG BATTLE and a BIG ENDING. But Delphi Diggory/Love-child of Voldemort and Bellatrix feels just a little bit ridiculous. When it was revealed that she was Voldemort’s child and there was another prophecy, I just felt a little bit like ‘rly????’.

I trust in Jo completely, and I support this. And I especially support the finding of the Time-Turner and going back in Time, because it’s a really nice way to pay homage to the original series. And we all know that story can work because we’ve seen AVPS.

But there are other ways she could’ve brought it full-circle, by ending it at Godric’s Hollow in 1981. Of course, she couldn’t totally rip off AVPS because that’s plagiarism and very very wrong. But I would’ve liked to see another Death Eater, maybe Rowle or Nott, trying to influence Scorpius, and going back to 1981 to Kill Harry (gasps).

That would’ve made more sense to me, and no need for Delphi Diggory, the most un-Mary Sue Mary Sue. (Does anyone know what the name is of a completely negative Mary Sue, whose purpose is to be the bad guy?)

2. Where are all the other children? Where are all the other characters? 

Seriously, this play needed more Rose. She’s barely in it! Hugo Granger-Weasley doesn’t even seem to exist. And where o where is Teddy Lupin? He could’ve sorted all this trouble out.

If this is a play about the Next Gen, we could’ve seen more of James Potter Jr., Rose Granger-Weasley and Lily Potter Jr.

And we could’ve seen Sirius in the past. And we could’ve seen Professor Longbottom. SERIOUSLY.

Let’s continue shall we?

Things I liked that other people probably didn’t 

1. Emphasis on Ronmione 

This lovely little script proves that Ronmione just make sense. So all you Harry/Hermione shippers, just get over yourselves. They didn’t have an affair in the future, it is and always will be Ron/Hermione and Harry/Ginny.

2. Albus is in Slytherin! 

Yep. Loved it. For a moment you think ‘But that doesn’t make sense, generations of Weasleys have been in Gryffindor and Harry Potter is the greatest Gryffindor since Dumbledore, how can his and Ginny’s son be a Slytherin?’

Well. Look at Sirius Black. Defied his parentage didn’t he?

And here is the ultimate, definitive proof that not all Gryffindors are good and not all Slytherins are bad. The lines of House Sorting aren’t always clear. Gryffindors can be smart and ambitious as well as brave. And Slytherins can be brave and loyal as well as cunning. Pettigrew and Snape are our Original Canon examples and Albus and Scorpius are our New Gen examples.

Jo has always been adamant that good and bad aren’t as clear as people think: Dumbledore did some awful things in his time and Draco was not always terrible.

Albus being in Slytherin keeps this narrative alive and proves that being Harry and Ginny’s son doesn’t mean he isn’t his own person.

3. Ron as Comic Relief 

Anyone who thinks that just because Ron went through all the struggles of his teenager-dom means he must have changed by middle-age is just wrong. These characters might be 20 years older but they are still inherently themselves. Ron is still loyal and humorous just as Hermione is brilliant and strong-willed and Harry is the hero. Plus, now Ron’s a Dad so he’s bound to be even funnier and in an even more embarrassing way. Ron Granger-Weasley is peak Dad Jokes.

yay dad jokes

Other things I liked 

1. Albus/Scorpius relationship 

Anyone who didn’t love this (Scorbus? Is that what we’re calling it? I approve) is just being ridiculous. It’s Harry/Ron all over again except with less jealousy and more homoeroticism. I’ve always said that the most important relationships in Harry Potter are the friendships, and Jo continues this in Cursed Child. Yes, I see the homosexual undertones as well as you do. But to be fair, the boys are 14 and might not be comfortable expressing their love for each other yet.

Let it flow, what will be will be. And all those people that were crying for Rose/Scorpius at the end of Deathly Hallows (you know who you are, I’ve seen the fanfics), got a little bit of what they were hoping for. Though I’m sure a solid 80% have jumped ship to the Good Ship Scorbus now.

2. Scorpius himself 

Scorpius is such a loser. I LOVE IT. Malfoy thought he was all that and a bag of chips, but his son is a total loser. Which proves that people are made not born. In a world where being a Malfoy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, Scorpius ended up at the bottom of the food chain. But he still managed to be a hero.

Scorpius is the Neville of Cursed Child. And we all know how great Nevilles are.

3. The characters are not perfect 

Because Jo’s characters never are. Those people who are complaining that (MAJOR SPOILER ALERT, LOOK AWAY NOW, IN FACT WHY ARE YOU STILL READING???) Harry told Albus that he wished Albus wasn’t his son are forgetting that Harry is one of the most imperfect characters in literature. He often gets in rages and says things he doesn’t mean. He is an angry and impulsive character. Remember all those times he screamed at Ron and Hermione? His best friends? His only family? That horrible way he spoke to Lupin, when he said he’d be ashamed of him if he were Lupin’s son.

This actually makes sense for Harry, especially because he allows himself to get wound up so easily. This is the boy that was so wound up by Malfoy that he went off on a midnight mission round Hogwarts aged 11 and nearly got eaten by Fluffy.

Of course his own son is going to push his buttons. But part of Harry Potter is about owning your mistakes and correcting them. Which he does. Parent/child relationships aren’t always easy and they are rarely perfect. And in a Next-Gen story which is about this kind of relationship, Jo deals with it ideally.

Also, Rose is a little bitch at times and really needs to sort her act out. But again, not perfect. Lord knows Hermione could be a bitch at times, especially to the ones she loved. Poor Ron never got over the bird attack.

4. Its themes and heart are true to the Harry Potter narrative 

At its core Cursed Child deals with what it means to be a hero. Or the son-of-a-hero. Or the son-of-an-evil-little-shit.  Throughout Harry Potter Harry dealt with the pressure of being James and Lily’s son, the Chosen One. Here, Albus deals with the pressure of being Harry’s son.

The lines of good and evil are blurred, just like in Harry Potter and always, always, in HP love was the heart of the narrative. And Cursed Child maintains these themes and ideas until the end.

Also this bit:

Harry Potter in a nutshell.

Even post-Voldemort (2020 PV) Harry still has the burden of being the Chosen One, and in one single line Jo encapsulates what it means to be Harry Potter.

Reading it I was like:


So who is the Cursed Child? 

I know sources say that the Cursed Child is Albus, but I think arguments can be made that the Cursed Child could be Harry, Albus, or Scorpius.

All three were burdened with names and expectations that they felt they couldn’t live up to. They never asked to be a Potter or a Malfoy or the Chosen One.

You could even say that Delphi was the Cursed Child.

Maybe Jo herself is the Cursed one, because she’ll never satisfy everyone.

Jo, John, and Jack’s story isn’t by any means perfect, but that doesn’t stop it from being nostalgic, complex, and iconic.

I, for one, am just grateful that Jo gifted us with the Eight Story and a play that will hopefully run for many years on the West End, a play which is ‘easily the most wizard piece of theatre to hit the West End in years’.

I think it needs to be seen to be believed.

So I just need to get my hands on some tickets.

Oh, and I totally cried at the end. It was just beautifully heartfelt and emotional at the end. I’m positive there will be buckets in the theatre.

And remember: #KeepTheSecrets

 

Funny Girl at the Menier Chocolate Factory

Barbra Streisand was not wrong when she announced ‘I’m the Greatest Star’. It would be ridiculous to review any performance of Funny Girl and attempt to compare the star to Barbra because she is simply incomparable. And yet, it cannot be helped. Sheridan Smith, however, does an incredibly good job of coping with the prestigious role of Fanny Brice, without falling to the risk of simply imitating Barbra.

She makes the role her own, and after all she is playing Fanny not Barbra, and easily balances the comedy in the first act with the tragedy in the second. Her comic timing is simply excellent and her engagement with the audience makes Fanny even more relatable and likeable. And yet, at the same time, she can turn up the drama that reminds the audience that Fanny is not just the comic actress but is in fact a human with painful emotions that even humour cannot cover.

I think it is fair to say that Sheridan Smith carries the show at the Menier Chocolate Factory. Her Nicky Arnstein is played by Darius Campbell (formerly Danesh), and though they sound wonderful when they sing together, he does not quite have the suaveness necessary to pull of the charming Nicky and his hulking great figure is overpowering to Smith’s little frame, which makes them seem a little mismatched. His vocals are also, arguably, some of the weakest of the company and it is easy to see why Nicky’s songs were cut from the film starring Streisand.

I have to wonder whether Campbell’s voice will be able to sufficiently fill the Savoy Theatre when the show transfers to the West End in March. The show in itself demands a bigger theatre. The stage at the Menier Chocolate Factory is simply not big enough for a show with big costumes, musical numbers and a huge star at its centre. Sheridan Smith deserves a bigger theatre so that she can fully utilise her voice.

Though she did make me cry on two occasions (People and Don’t Rain on My Parade), I am of the opinion that the songs made famous by Funny Girl demand a more rousing vocal power. I would have really liked to see Smith fully utilise her belt and inject a stronger potency into the songs. When you listen to Barbra or even Lea Michele perform the Funny Girl classics, their voices reach all corners of the notes and I think Smith is more than capable of doing this, so when the show does move to the Savoy, I would be interested to see her really inject some oomph into the songs.

The character of Fanny, too, is too large for a tiny stage. She jumps off the stage and comes alive so much that she needs a full theatre to really emphasise the vivid nature of her character. Smith’s Fanny is a little more clumsy and graceless than Barbra’s, who though she was awkward, was never prone to potentially flashing the audience.

Of the supporting cast, the real star is Marilyn Cutts who plays Rose Brice, Fanny’s mother. Cutts perfectly exemplifies the stereotypical Jewish mother and hits all the funny notes of her character in all the right places.

The music itself is one of great acclaim, and rightly so, it sold out its Menier Chocolate Factory run in 90 minutes. It is beautifully directed by Michael Mayer and I love the decision to make Who Are You Now? into a duet between Fanny and Nicky, giving it more sentimentality than previously.

One final note of personal opinion, though nothing to do with Smith’s insane talent: she’s too pretty for the role. I was supposed to be able to see myself in Fanny, a Jewish girl with an unsightly nose, and yet all I could think of when Smith sang about her ‘American nose’ was how much I would kill for a little button nose like hers. Though Streisand is undoubtedly beautiful and glamorous, her distinct features made her sympathetic to the lyrics. It’s impossible to take seriously the notion that Smith might be ‘Jewish-looking’ with a large nose, and thus her standout against the Eight Beautiful Girls Eight and the other Follies must be her height.

So there you have it: that’s my review of Funny Girl, which I had been waiting to see since August. I have to wonder how I would feel had I seen it in the vast Savoy Theatre where I was lucky enough to see Gypsy (which was outstanding) this summer just gone. Ultimately the bright lights of the show rest on the talent of Sheridan Smith and she carries the show to its great heights.

I will admit that I favour Streisand’s Fanny, but this is no criticism of Sheridan’s formidable talent and the energy that she brings to the role. And as this is the first time Funny Girl has returned to the London stage since Streisand’s own run, I do believe that everyone should be flocking to buy tickets.

Funny Girl is at the Menier Chocolate Factory until 5 March and at the Savoy Theatre from 8 April. 

Henry V at The Royal Shakespeare Theatre

Oh boy am I lucky English Literature student??

Of my life, I can confirm few literary loves as true and unwavering. One being Harry Potter and the other, solidly, firmly, Shakespeare. Yes, I confess, I am that hated Literature student that loves Shakespeare and is completely awful about it.

And because of this love, I took a module this semester entitled Shakespeare’s Comedies – no prizes for guessing what that one’s about, taught by some masterful academics of Shakespeare’s world, imported directly from the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon, which has links to my university.

As part of our course, we were lucky enough to be invited to the Institute itself to have some talks by academics on Henry V, a Q and A with the cast and then to see the production itself by the Royal Shakespeare Company. The production was filmed, so if anyone does happen upon it, I was sat in row D and may very well have my five minutes of fame there.

The day itself was a wonderful experience, and I tweeted about it with great pride and a little smugness.

Screen Shot 2015-11-06 at 17.33.12

But what I’m really here to discuss is the play Henry V and the production. It was an outstanding performance. I’ve never been lucky enough to see the Royal Shakespeare Company before but this floored me, and confirmed to me why they are the best of the best.

Now it’s debatable whether Henry V can even be considered a comedy – certainly in the First Folio it is a history play – and most likely it was included in our course because of this fantastic opportunity. However, the RSC made the most of its comedic elements from the language barriers between Henry and Catherine, to the accent struggles of the Irishman, Welshman and Scotsman – hang on I think there’s a joke in there somewhere.

It was a fierce and solid production that left me in awe of the magnificence of the company and of Shakespeare’s words. It’s a concept well known that you can’t really understand Shakespeare until you see it performed, read aloud or even on film. His prose and verse can be considered far too difficult to be understood straight off the page, and certainly, seeing it brought to life adds a further dimension and a clarity unable to be absorbed simply from reading.

I would recommend – and have recommended – this production to so many people, especially as the full tetralogy (Richard II, Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, Henry V) is transferring to the Barbican theatre in London following Henry V’s closure in Stratford. However, alas, I believe tickets are selling out fast, so if you’re a Shakespeare lover or indeed a history lover get on it.

For me, I must now move on to something else, something firmly comedic. How about Much Ado About Nothing? 

Dirty Dancing at the Alhambra Theatre

For our joint 21st birthday presents, myself and my best friend were treated to a night at the theatre by our mummies. We went to see the musical adaptation of Dirty Dancing at the Alhambra in Bradford.

The story was simple and followed the film pretty much word for word. I was slightly apprehensive when the curtains opened and they seemed to be singing a completely original song, instead of Be My Baby, the iconic black and white opener to the film. But the original songs were few and the rest of the music harked back to the film’s classics like Hungry Eyes, Yes and of course, Time of My Life, and were exceptionally sung by the cast.

I must admit I did feel slightly sorry for the cast as they didn’t have the pleasantest of audiences. In a theatre up north like Bradford, on a Saturday night, you have to expect that there would be some loud ladies and rowdy hen-night girls, but the attitude of the audience was pretty despicable to the point of being downright rude. You don’t need to wolf-whistle every time Johnny does a body roll, that’s actually a human being up there trying to do his job, not a piece of meat.

But that’s a digression I don’t want to take whilst writing a theatre review. Theatre etiquette is something I’ll write about at a later date and you can be assured that there will probably be a rant about standing ovations in there as well.

Back to DD, Baby was a little twee for me, in comparison to Jennifer Grey’s dry, realistic teenage Baby, but perhaps on stage a little over-enthusiasm and over-expressiveness is necessary. There were some seriously cringy staging moments, like the water-lift scene (though again, possibly hard to pull off on stage) and Mr Shumacher was reduced to a slapstick comic joke.

Then again, you have to remind yourself that it was a touring production, and some of these actors might just be breaking into the business. Perhaps I’m a theatre snob, but I still enjoyed it nevertheless.

What I really must commend is the dancers. I was captivated and entranced by their skill and talent, especially Johnny and Penny. Having been a former dancer myself (tap, ballet and jazz up to the age of fourteen, so obviously I know what I’m talking about) and a regular watcher of Strictly Come Dancing, I still find myself absolutely absorbed by any form of dance movement and in awe of those who hone and perfect their craft.

Whilst music and familiar lines are as important as ever in the show, the real star is the dancing. With sharp choreography that echoes the film but doesn’t copy it step for step, it’s that flair and energy that really brings the film to life.

Of course, he’s no Patrick Swayze and she’s no Jennifer Grey. But no-one ever will be. This show shouldn’t ever be a carbon copy or an emulation, it’s really a love letter to the gift those actors and the wonderful Kenny Ortega gave us. The film is a classic, an icon, and this show evidently loves it as much as its dedicated fanbase does.

After all, no-one puts Baby in the corner.

The Book of Mormon (Prince of Wales Theatre)

Nearly a month ago (gosh time goes quickly) a dear friend of mine took me to the theatre as a belated birthday present and we were lucky enough to see The Book of Mormon, and have amazing seats as well! We decided on Book of Mormon because (as a very very privileged young lady) I often go to the theatre with my mum, and I knew this would be the one show I would not be able to attend with her.

However, as the lights came up at the interval, I immediately had my phone out telling her to book tickets to go and see the show. It’s as incredible as everyone: reviewers, awards-givers, humble theatre-goers says and I can fully see why it won so many Tonys, especially for the off-stage action like Book and Music and Lyrics.

The creators of South Park, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, together with the musical creator and lyricist of Avenue Q, Robert Lopez, have conceived a musical that is full of heart, humour and hypnotic songs. I actually thought it would be a lot more offensive than it actually was; in fact the crudeness doesn’t detract in any way from the magic of the story.

The songs are incredible, with that infectious beat and lyrics that a true musical boasts, songs that you’ll have in your head for weeks to come. And if Robert Lopez’s name sounds familiar, that’s because he won an Oscar last year for writing the music and lyrics of the biggest animated movie of all time, Frozen. (That makes him the youngest ever EGOT holder!)

So when you take it in to account that the same guy who wrote Hasa Diga Eebowai also wrote Do You Wanna Build A Snowman, you kind of have to have a giggle to yourself. But when you look at the actually music and musical rhythms themselves, it’s easy to see why both songs come from the same genius. The songs in Book of Mormon are so catchy and so uplifting, it’s kind of like a Disney movie in itself… only the most corrupted Disney movie ever.

It’s obvious that this musical was created by people who love musicals: there are nods to musical classics of the past, including Sound of Music and the Lion King, and there are nods to the musical tropes in themselves, like the big brassy musical number Spooky Mormon Hell Dream. Though it’s not the ‘typical’ musical from its themes and subjects matters (though really, what is… I mean, does anyone actually know what the point of Cats is?) it embraces the idea of the musical with repeated riffs and the huge closing number to the first act.

The storyline is simple and easy to follow, which allows the characters, the music and the dialogue to really shine. It goes without saying that after the first couple of numbers, I had a huge grin on my face and was thinking ‘Now that’s an incredible musical’.

I’m of the opinion that a musical should make you feel something and you should know what it’s trying to make you feel. Whether it’s miserable in Les Miserables or happy in Jersey Boys, for me, a good musical leaves me feeling something at the end, and a great musical makes you want to go out and buy tickets for a repeat viewing.

After Book of Mormon, I came out of the theatre grinning from ear to ear, and I haven’t stopped listening to the soundtrack since.

So if you can take the mockery of Mormons, and the gabbing about genitalia, grab your tickets whilst you can… you really don’t want to miss this one.

Gypsy at the Savoy Theatre

I was privileged enough to see Gypsy with Imelda Staunton this past week at the Savoy Theatre in London’s West End. My gosh, it was a treat. By far one of the most wonderful productions I have ever seen.

Gypsy tells the story of pushy stage mother Rose (Staunton) and her two daughters, Baby June and Louise, the latter of which who goes on to become burlesque sensation Gypsy Rose Lee.

The role of Rose was made famous by Ethel Merman and subsequently performed by such talents as Patti LuPone, Angela Lansbury and Bernadette Peters. So how then could Staunton step into such star-spangled shoes?

Quite impressively, in my humble opinion. Not only does she have a powerhouse voice but her impressive acting talent lends to subtleties in her vocal performance that show Rose’s own insecurities and desires. Following in the footsteps of such larger-than-life ladies like Merman, the petite stature of Staunton shows Rose as a tiny ticking time bomb, getting more desperate with each failed performance of her girls’ attempts at vaudeville, before she explodes in a burst of talent and spectacle with the outstanding finale of Rose’s Turn.

This clip is just a preview, a glimpse into the vocal ability of Staunton. But to really embrace it, you simply must see her in action. It’s not enough to keep pressing repeat on YouTube, her sincere talent is only really accessible from the Savoy Theatre where a multitude of emotions cross her face in one song of some four minutes.

I won’t lie, I did get a bit emotional as Staunton took her bow to a full theatre of standing ovations. Not only due to how wonderful the show’s emotional story is but because of my own awe at how impressive a performance Staunton gave. I felt extremely privileged to have seen such talent in the flesh, especially from the second row where every beat is palpable.

The lady next to me seemed surprised to be seated next to a 21-year-old. This was unsurprising considering the average age in the audience must have been around 65. She asked me if I thought the show was outdated.

Not at all Mrs Seat-Next-To-Me. This is a story about ambition and loss and heartbreak and desire. Though it’s set in the vaudeville circuits of the early 20th century, its themes are equally powerful today. Add to that the untouchable music and lyrics of Jule Styne and the king himself Mr Stephen Sondheim, you get a theatre show that transcends generations and one that should be equally loved by young and old alike.

It’s been called a ‘once-in-a-lifetime‘ experience and I can’t validate that any more. The show is only running in London until November, which in my opinion is a great great shame. I understand that actors want to move on, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Staunton needed a change from such a demanding role as Rose. However, it seems such a pity that more people won’t have access to this supreme show, with or without Staunton, as it is truly one of the greatest pieces of musical theatre ever written.

Staunton is electrifying and a chutzpah-filled fireball, made even more impressive by her diminutive stature. Perhaps it is this that truly separates her from Merman – vastly different in shape and thus portrayal, Staunton’s Rose is a firecracker in a tiny package, making her determination only more frightening and engaging.

So, in my humble opinion – that of a lifelong theatre lover, with not much talent herself – this is by far the best show of the season (which I can say without having seen any other shows this season!) and deserves all the accolades and praise it is being given. Brava to Miss Staunton and the whole cast of Gypsy, and to you, if you’re out there reading this, log off my page and purchase your tickets and let the wonderful story of Gypsy truly entertain you.