Harry Potter and The Cursed Child: The U.S. Critics’ Verdict

What did the American Critics Think About Harry Potter on Broadway?

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‘all consuming enchantment’ New York Times
‘it leaves its audience awestruck, spellbound and deeply satisfied’ Time Out
‘every bit as spellbinding as promised’ The Hollywood Reporter
‘Must-see’ Chicago Tribune
‘a theatrical marvel’ Entertainment Weekly
‘a wildly theatrical and thrilling Broadway spectacle’ Daily News
‘It’s some kind of miracle’ Rolling Stone
‘Hooray!’ Variety

Cast of Harry Potter & The Cursed Child at Lyric Theatre New York
Harry Potter & The Cursed Child at Lyric Theatre New York. Photo: Matthew Murphy

We knew the London production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child had entranced the British critics, the question was would the Broadway version cast the same spell over American reviewers? The answer clearly was ‘yes’.

So what was it that bewitched them?

There were five spells that the show cast. First, no matter how much we theatregoers might want to judge Harry Potter And The Cursed Child purely as a stage play, we can’t avoid the legacy of seven novels and eight films.

The Harry Potter Legacy

Cast of Harry Potter & The Cursed Child at Lyric Theatre New York
Harry Potter & The Cursed Child at Lyric Theatre New York. Photo: Manuel Harlan

‘The story begins where the final novel in the Potter series… ended’ pointed out the NYT. Chicago Tribune described it as ‘an immersive coda to the most powerful literary brand of a generation’.
And many of the critics were happy with this:
‘the show has a plot that really works as an extension of the Potter saga’ said Variety.
‘an unprecedented extension of a beloved world is making something so impossible feel so much realer than it ever could be’ said Entertainment Weekly.
Some were worried that only those familiar with what had gone before would enjoy the play. The Guardian said it ‘will deeply perplex anyone who hasn’t read the delightful books or seen the so-so movies’.
But others were confident you didn’t have to be a Potterhead.
Hollywood reporter pointed out: ‘there’s … a universal dimension to the human drama here – the challenges of parenting, the conflict between fathers and teenage sons burdened by intimidating legacies, the sustaining force of love and friendship, the eternal grip of the past – that will prove poignant and meaningful even to audiences unversed in the wizarding wars.’
amNY went so far as to say, ‘a theatergoer with no prior “wizarding” experience should still be able to have a great time – and may even find the show more enthralling than would a longtime fan who already knows the “Harry Potter” universe inside and out.’

The storytelling

Photo of Noma Dumezweni, Jamie Parker and Paul Thornley in Harry Potter & The Cursed Child at Lyric Theatre New York
Noma Dumezweni, Jamie Parker and Paul Thornley in Harry Potter & The Cursed Child at Lyric Theatre New York. Photo Manuel Harlan

Secondly, there was the story, which came from JK Rowling and director John Tiffany and was scripted by one of my favourite playwrights Jack Thorne.
‘The script has more variations on father issues than the entire canon of Greek tragedy’ said the daddy of theatre critics the New York Times’ Ben Brantley.
The Hollywood Reporter was impressed by the ‘pulse-pounding storytelling vitality and … unexpected emotional richness’.
The Chicago Tribune said ‘it was a must-see, totally enveloping, thoroughly thrilling chance to experience the global power of shared storytelling at its most robust.’
Entertainment Weekly found that it ‘unlocks new points of view, particularly in the show’s climax, that are wholly unique to this play, unable to be replicated no matter how countless one’s consumption of the books or movies’.
New York Stage Review reckoned ‘they might as well send out the 2018 Best Play Tony Award for engraving already’.
Variety described it as ‘theater that shows us the true magic of great storytelling’.

It’s proper theatre

Cast of Harry Potter & The Cursed Child at Lyric Theatre New York
Harry Potter & The Cursed Child at Lyric Theatre New York. Photo: Matthew Murphy

And that’s another thing that the theatre critics loved about Harry Potter & The Cursed Child. It’s proper theatre. As the New York Times put it: ‘By contrast, most of the family-courting stage versions of animated films that have ruled the theater district for so long look as stiff and artificial as parades of windup toys.’

Similarly The Wrap contrasted it with ‘the stage versions of “Mary Poppins” and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” (which) dumbed the imagination with their literal interpretations.’

Variety summed it up by saying ‘the theater has brought its own brand of wizardry to the material’.
The Hollywood Reporter loved its ‘Thrilling theatricality’.
It was, in the Chicago Tribune’s eyes, ‘a feast of epic theatricality in celebration of the imagination (that) manages to be both extraordinary and old-fashioned theatrical fun’.
The Daily News went on a similar tack: ‘What’s so wondrous is how low-tech stagecraft brings such high-definition delight.’
The Hollywood Reporter agreed: ‘The ingenuity on display, often using the simplest means, is dazzling.’
Time Out said, ‘Great care has gone into creating each moment of this state-of-the-art adventure. It leaves its audience awestruck, spellbound and deeply satisfied.’

Many critics name checked the entire creative team. Here’s The Washington Post: ‘Director John Tiffany and his longtime maestro of movement, Steven Hoggett … have created a dynamic pair of evenings replete with ahhhh-inspiring tricks and illusions overseen by the ingenious Jamie Harrison. (Christine Jones’s swirling breakapart set pieces and Neil Austin’s lighting effects are marvels, too.)’

‘Given what Cursed Child’s design team has accomplished on a technical level,’ said Entertainment Weekly, ‘Broadway will never be the same.’  And while that publication went all apocalyptic, The New York Times went all philosophical: ‘”I am paint and memory,” a talking portrait of the long-dead wizard Dumbledore says […] Well, that’s art, isn’t it? Substitute theatrical showmanship for paint, and you have this remarkable production’s elemental recipe for all-consuming enchantment.’
‘The stagecraft on display is unlike anything I’ve seen, with magical moments taking your breath away at every turn,’ said Newsday breathlessly.

Time Out joined the chorus of approval with a concise phrase surely destined for the posters: ‘A triumph of theatrical magic’

It’s magic

Sam Clemmett and Anthony Boyle in Harry Potter And The Cursed Child at Lyric Theatre New York
Sam Clemmett and Anthony Boyle in Harry Potter And The Cursed Child at Lyric Theatre New York. Photo: Manuel Harlan

Magic. That’s the word that- inevitably you might say- comes up again and again. The Hollywood Reporter called it ‘sheer magic’.
‘It contained’, said the New York Times, ‘some of the most eye-boggling illusions you’ll ever witness’. The review goes on to say it sets ‘the new gold standard for fantasy franchise entertainment on Broadway’. (Maybe, like me, you didn’t know ‘fantasy franchise entertainment’ was a separate genre but you do now.)
Entertainment Weekly named the wizards responsible: ‘The show’s illusion and magic designer Jamie Harrison and special effects chief Jeremy Chernick are certain geniuses.’

The cast

The fifth and final spell was cast by the cast.

‘The leading actors are jolly good,’ said the Washington Post, subtly referring to the fact that many of the cast are from the original English production.

Coming in for particular praise was Anthony Boyle as Draco Malfoy’s son Scorpius who, said the New York Times, gave ‘a show stealing performance’. Variety called him ‘brilliant’.
The Chicago Tribune said he was ‘fabulous’, adding that his ’emotional energy empowers the production’.
Entertainment Weekly along with many others was impressed by Jamie Parker as the grown up Harry: ‘the actor excels at showing this grown-up Gryffindor as a brave but stunted man, outwardly successful but inwardly tormented’. It was, said The Hollywood reporter, ‘A finely nuanced performance, with gravitas and heart’.
Noma Dumezweni wowed the American critics as much as she previously impressed the Brits in London. Entertainment Weekly said she ‘stuns as a Hermione who is both cold and warm, hardened by politics, softened by parenthood, a brilliant enigma dealing with the frustration of a problem she cannot solve’.

The power and limits of love

Jamie Parker and Sam Clemmetts in Harry Potter & The Curse Child at Lyric Theatre New York
Jamie Parker and Sam Clemmetts in Harry Potter & The Cursed Child at Lyric Theatre New York. Photo: Manuel Harlan

So there you have it. A show that, thanks to its story, its theatricality, its magic and its cast, transcends its literary and cinematic origins to become a classic piece of theatre in its own right, and that, in the words of the Washington Post,
‘will be inducing swoons in Times Square for years to come’.

I’d like to end with a quote from the Chicago Tribune that seems to me to get to the very heart of why this is so much more than a mere Harry Potter spinoff: ‘you’re struck by the great beauty of both the theater and the people inside, all thinking and feeling as one about the power and limits of love’.

Watch the YouTube video below

Harry Potter and The Cursed Child is performing at the The Lyric Theatre in New York and will be for some time. Click here for more information about Harry Potter and The Cursed Child

5 Reasons The Critics Hated Macbeth at the National Theatre

Rory Kinnear & Anne-Marie Duff fail to save Macbeth, say theatre critics

Click here for the video 5 Reasons The Critics Hate National Theatre’s Macbeth on the YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews

Photo of Anne-Marie Duff & Rory Kinnear in Macbeth at National Theatre
Anne-Marie Duff & Rory Kinnear in Macbeth at National Theatre. Photo by Brinkhoff and Moegenburg

‘misjudged mess’ WhatsOnStage
‘the worst Shakespeare production at the NT for at least a decade’ Time Out
‘An unfortunate failure’  Sunday Times
‘A dud’ Daily Telegraph
‘A real mess’ Variety
‘A dismaying muddle’ The Stage
‘A stinker’ Daily Mail

Macbeth at the National Theatre has garnered some of the worst reviews in a long time including a one star review from WhatsonStage. Most rated it two stars including Sunday Times, Daily Mail, Telegraph, The Guardian, The Stage, Evening Standard, The Times,  The Observer,  Time Out and Broadwayworld.com.

‘Is this a dagger I see before me?’ asks Macbeth. He wasn’t wrong- the daggers were out for this production. The Telegraph responded, ‘Is this a dud I see before me?’ and the Daily Mail said, ‘Is this a shambles I see before me?’

So what didn’t they like? Two words crop up more than any others: Rufus Norris. He’s the director of Macbeth and he’s the National Theatre’s Artistic Director. He must have felt like Macbeth did when Burnham Forest came to Dunsinane. The machetes were out for him. Quite a few of the forest of critics noted his lack of experience in directing Shakespeare. Given the hugely successful Shakespearean productions of his predecessor Nicholas Hytner, now wowing them with Julius Caesar down the road at the Bridge Theatre, the phrase ‘hard act to follow’ comes to mind.

The first problem was that he had, many felt,

No understanding of the play

Rufus Norris places his Macbeth in some kind of post-apocalyptic urban setting. Dominic Cavendish wrote in the Telegraph ‘if a director does decide to go into modern-day apocalyptic mode, they can face a losing battle (as here) defining what is being fought over, why attention is paid to hierarchies, and how any of it matters’.

‘Where are we exactly, what sort of society is this and how did people end up here? It’s never made clear – conceptually, it’s a dismaying muddle.’ That was Natasha Tripney in The Stage

Lloyd Evans writing in the Spectator agreed ‘everything is confusing here’. ‘Childish, tokenistic, muddled, this show is laughably unmoving. They splosh round masses of Kensington gore but it manages to be bloodless. Feeble,’ spluttered Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail.

Christopher Hart writing in the Sunday Times knows what he likes: ‘In the best productions, Macbeth can feel like a ferocious ride straight to hell, pausing only for some of the most haunting and desolate soliloquies in the canon: the outpourings of a human soul in the process of destroying itself.’ And he knows what he doesn’t like: ‘What it should never feel like is lacklustre, turgid, somnolent’.

‘There’s no compelling new take here on Shakespeare’s interest in questions of tyranny and masculinity,’ complained Henry Hitchings in the Evening Standard.

‘Norris has taken a play best compressed into a taut psychological drama and blown it up into something operatically overblown,’ blustered Variety.

Holly Williams in the Independent said ‘vaulting ambitious becomes more survival of the fittest’. To be fair, Holly Williams didn’t hate it: ‘I’ve seen far worse than this.’ Which is what is sometimes called damning with faint praise.

So what else did Rufus Norris do to upset the critics? Well, if he didn’t understand what Shakespeare was getting at, he also dissed the bard’s poetry.

No respect for the text

‘In more minor cuts and rewrites, metre counts for nothing,’ complained Ian Shuttleworth in The Financial Times. ‘It’s brutally truncated,’ said Sarah Crompton in WhatsOnStage, ‘its great moral debate about the corrupting effects of evil (is) entirely lost.’

Variety referred to ‘Unnecessary, almost arbitrary textual cuts’. Susannah Clapp in The Observer talked of ‘a slashed text that eviscerates the witches’ speeches – no hubble-bubble or eye of newt – and makes the drama blunter, more one-dimensional’.

Quentin Letts writing in the Daily Mail wasn’t happy with Slasher Norris from the start: ‘”When shall we three meet again?” is one of the greatest opening lines of any play. Mr Norris ditches that.’

The Guardian’s Michael Billington wrote, ‘While a play is not a poetry recital, this production seems indifferent to the rhythms of the language… (it) sacrifices its tonal contrasts and mysterious poetry.’

And not only did it sound bad, they thought it looked bad.

The set is ugly

‘Rae Smith’s ugly-to-behold set is dominated by an oppressive backdrop of raven-black hangings,’  said the Telegraph. That word ‘ugly’ crops up a few times. ‘It was aggressively ugly,’ shuddered The Stage. And WhatsOnStage found it ‘ugly to look at’.

The Daily Mail called it a ‘low-lit mess engulfed by blunt grottiness’. Time Out said, ‘the setup here is essentially meaningless’. The Guardian found it ‘harsh to look at, lacking in light and shade’. The Evening Standard thought it was ‘bleak and often brutal’.

The set offended some critics so much, they couldn’t keep their eyes off it, thus subverting the Shakespeare’s classic work . Anne Treneman in The Times said, ‘the play struggles to rise above the sheer Stygian ghastliness’.  ‘These distressing visual details aren’t just nasty to look at, they undermine the story,’ said Lloyd Evans in The Spectator.

Not everyone agreed. The Sunday Times thought it had a ‘marvelous look’. David Butcher on the Radio Times website praised the ‘bold production design’. The Independent said, ‘Norris’s production excels … in atmosphere and visuals. It’s dark.’

So you have this big dark set and here’s the next problem. It’s in a big theatre.

The Olivier is too big

Now arguably this is not Rufus Norris’ fault. He’s inherited the cavernous Olivier but then again he chose to place Macbeth, a play whose themes of conspiracy and paranoia probably work best in a confined space, in the biggest space the National has to offer.

‘Rae Smith’s black pleated walls – bin-bag cliffs – engulf the action on the huge Olivier stage,’  said Susannah Clapp in The Observer. Mark Shenton at LondonTheatre.co.uk thought ‘the scale of the production also mitigates against the domestic intensity of much of the drama’.

You might have thought the stars would redeem it. Rory Kinnear and Anne-Marie Duff are two of our finest actors and in Mr Kinnear you have someone with a brilliant track record of playing great Shakespearean roles. And, to an extent, they did but, even though most critics liked their acting, quite a few didn’t like the interpretations, especially Rory Kinnear’s Macbeth.

The stars

Here’s what they said about this ‘poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage’. ‘Rory Kinnear, one of our finest comic actors, never quite convinces as the driven, ambitious thane. He’s too dithering, nervy and jumpy.’  That was  the Sunday Times.

The Daily Mail thought him ‘unexceptional’. ‘Kinnear is a martial not a meditative presence, too robust to seem deeply disturbed,’  said The Observer. The Stage said, ‘In the past he’s been an eloquent Hamlet and a bullish, envy-drenched Iago. He tackles Macbeth with the same clarity of delivery, but he never digs beneath his skin.’

That latter point is echoed by others. The Guardian said he ‘never takes us inside Macbeth’s head’. WhatsOnStage agreed saying he ‘does little to convey the conscience-stricken inwardness that makes the character so complex’. The Radio Times said, ‘There’s not enough sense of the dense geography of Macbeth’s inner life’ and continued ‘we don’t get the feeling here that his Macbeth is a great soul laid low by baser instincts, more an exasperated middle manager.’

Lloyd Evans in The Spectator had a similar thought. ‘There’s no trace of poetry, grandeur or mystery about him. But he’d be ideal casting as the tetchy manager of an Amazon warehouse.’

There’s more from Mr Evans.  ‘Rory Kinnear makes an unlikely Macbeth,’ said The Spectator. ‘His voice is dark, rich and characterful but he has few other assets. Physically he’s suburban: a bit bald, slightly stooping, with a faint beer gut and a pinched, narrow frame.’ In other contexts, this would be body shaming but we can take his point that Rory Kinnear’s Macbeth is an ordinary guy.

Rosemary Waugh from Exeunt Magazine had the same impression: ‘Rory Kinnear plays Macbeth as the-bloke-down-the-pub, making some of the most famous monologues in the history of well, theatre, sound as dramatically intense as a food order.’

Not everybody was unhappy with Rory Kinnear. Marianka Swain from Broadwayworld.com said he ‘showed real existential angst’ and was ‘as clear-spoken and intelligent with verse as always’.

So what about Anne-Marie Duff? She came in for less stick than Rory Kinnear but The Observer did say, ‘Duff is precise, guarding against her own fragility – she delivers her smashing-the-baby speech tearfully – but lacks the fire that usually makes her so memorable.’

And BroadwayWorld.com thought, ‘Anne-Marie Duff’s Lady Macbeth feels half-formed.’ Variety was even less impressed: ‘as Lady Macbeth, Duff all but goes missing’.

That said, many critics did like the acting of both Mr and Mrs Macbeth. Mark Shenton at londontheatre.co.uk said, ‘Neither of these fine, fierce and always ferociously intelligent actors disappoints.’ The Radio Times enthused about the ‘clarity of delivery and line-reading that makes the text sing’.

And quite a few singled out Anne-Marie Duff. The Financial Times said ‘she makes every word vibrate with high-tension significance’. The Guardian’s Michael Billington, who didn’t find much else to like, said ‘she lives vividly in the moment’.

So there you have it. The critics full of sound and fury but… signifying nothing? Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow will tell whether sales or indeed Rufus Norris’s reputation are badly affected. I can say that when I saw it the audience reacted well. There was no polite round of applause- I heard strong clapping and some cheering. So word-of-mouth may prevail.

Did any critic give Macbeth at the National Theatre more than two stars? Yes- the Financial Times, The Independent, the Radio Times, the i and the LondonTheatre website to name but a few gave it three stars. One lone voice even gave it four stars. That was a certain One Minute Theatre Reviews.

What can I say? I liked the dystopian setting. I thought the poetry was beautifully spoken. I loved Rory Kinnear’s portrayal of Macbeth as an ordinary man caught up in lawless times. I found it interesting to see the themes of Macbeth played out, not in a war for a mighty kingdom but in the kind of nasty modern war over a destroyed city, such as we’ve seen in Syria or Bosnia.

I did think it would have been better in a more confined space, and it did lack tension at the end but I really hope the massed ranks of the critics advancing on Rufus Norris’s Macbeth don’t put people off this Scottish Play for our times.

Harry Potter And The Cursed Child Parts One & Two

Click here for review on YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)
Photo of members of the cast of Harry Potter And The Cursed Child stage play by Jack Thorne based on idea by JK Rowling Jack Thorne and John Tiffany
Harry Potter And The Cursed Child. Photo: Manuel Harlan

A Worthy Addition to the Harry Potter saga

I’ve read the Harry Potter books and seen the films. If you haven’t, you might be less intrigued than I was by this return to Hogwarts because the past looms heavy in this new adventure.

JK Rowling tells a good children’s story that adults can also enjoy, and she does it again with her stage play Harry Potter And The Cursed Child, currently at the Palace Theatre London.

Production photo of the stage play Harry Potter And The Cursed Child by JK Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany
Harry Potter And The Cursed Child. Photo: Manuel Harlan

Her chronicle of good versus evil in the world of witchcraft continues with the sons of Harry Potter and his former enemy Draco Malfoy. Both boys suffer from being the children of well-known parents. That’s why they become friends and go an adventure together, an adventure which is as much about the excitement of problem solving as fighting evil.

Good story by JK Rowling- great play by Jack Thorne

The Cursed Child is blessed with a script by Jack Thorne which is full of humour and emotional depth, especially in the difficult relationship between the adult Harry and his adolescent son, both troubled by the past in their different ways, both feeling inadequate. It’s also fascinating to see the way Draco Malfoy is changed and challenged by becoming a parent.

The story is about the effect of the past on the present. Literally and chillingly,  we see that changing the past can change the present. More interestingly,  what the older characters have or haven’t done previously affects how they are now. It is this exploration that makes what otherwise would be a good children’s show into something of real interest to an adult audience.

Production photo of members of the cast of Harry Potter And The Cursed Child by JK Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany
Harry Potter And The Cursed Child. Photo: Manuel Harlan

There are many very good characters well acted. When I saw the plays, Rayke Ayola showed a good range of emotion as Hermione Granger. I especially liked the Malfoys played with relish by James Howard and young Samuel Blenkin, who was the star of the show.

John Tiffany’s production has some excellent theatrical effects: the appearance of the Dementors is spine tingling. The illusions by Jamie Harrison that provide some real ‘wow’ moments such as the split second in which actors seem to disappear into a telephone.

The difficulty for me is that while action adventures told on a stage work well for children, for adults they can seem a little melodramatic. Despite or perhaps because of an existential threat in the story, this is no exception.

That said, this is a magical production and a worthy addition to the Harry Potter saga.

Harry Potter And The Cursed Child can be seen at the Palace Theatre London

Here’s my review from the YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews

War Horse – Theatre Review

Pure Theatre That’s Heartbreaking and Uplifting

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

National Theatre production of War Horse reviewed by Paul Seeven Lewis of One Minute Theatre Reviews
National Theatre production of War Horse

If, like me, your first experience of professional theatre was a puppet show, you may be surprised that a story for children featuring puppets should be a huge theatrical hit.

Don’t let anything you’ve seen before put you off. The quality of the puppets in the National Theatre production of Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse is extraordinary, a world away from Sooty with Harry Corbett. In the hands of their expert operators, the wooden frames are capable of the most subtle and realistic movements. Using the power of the imagination, it is pure theatre. I would recommend getting a seat close to the stage in order to catch all the detail.

Near the front, you’ll also feel right in the middle of the frightening battle scenes which, partly thanks to Rae Smith‘s imaginative design and Paule Constable‘s dramatic lighting, create the horror and chaos of war before your eyes.

The direction by Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris and the script by Nick Stafford deserve credit for turning Morpurgo’s brilliant story, which was written from a horse’s point of view with children in mind, into a tale of love, courage and hope that resonates with all ages.

While telling the story of a farm animal enlisted by the army to take part in the First World War and his owner’s attempts to find him, it is also the tale of the common humanity of the people who were forced to fight each other.

Before we are transported to France, we experience wonderful heartwarming scenes conjuring up the pre-war age of a countryside where working animals were at the heart of farming.

War Horse is uplifting at times and, at others, heartbreaking. Make sure you take a hankie.

War Horse is touring to Melbourne, Sidney, Perth and Singapore until 3 May 2020. More details at www.warhorseonstage.com