My daughter Abigail, while overseas in a study abroad program, scored same-day tickets to the London production of "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts One and Two." She insisted that this new play, which serves as the eighth installment to the story that J.K. Rowling previously claimed would never go beyond seven books, was the best thing she had ever seen or would ever see, yet she refused to provide any spoilers, so I had to wait to buy the script for myself. Which, of course, I did at the earliest possible opportunity, devouring the book in a single sitting.
That's not hard to do, given that this is a script, not a novel, so it's a pretty quick read. That may be off-putting to those who want a full-fledged literary sequel, but I found that the shift in medium cuts straight to the meat of the narrative without any filler. There's no opportunity for lengthy exposition or detailed descriptions, and you don't have the luxury of a narrator telling you what the characters are thinking, which requires the writers to be economical in how they tell the story. It also means they can cram a lot of story into far fewer pages, so "Cursed Child" covers as much ground as the other books do, even though its word count is significantly lower.
That may prove to be a major drawback to anyone trying to enter J.K. Rowling's wizarding world for the first time, since the play assumes that you know from the outset who these characters are and what's they've already done. If you don't, you'll be hopelessly lost. Indeed, even some diehards might find themselves a little hazy on the details if it's been a long time since they've read the books or seen the movies. If that describes your situation, I recommend a thorough review of "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," as the events in the fourth book get particular emphasis in "Cursed Child."
If I were to describe how those events impact this current story, however, I'd be giving away too much. I can tell you that the story begins immediately where the last book leaves off, with the scene at the train station 19 years after the fall of Voldemort being reproduced almost word-for-word from the end of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows." Middle-aged Harry Potter comforts his young son Albus, who is heading off for his first year at Hogwarts and terrified that he'll be sorted into Slytherin House instead of Gryffindor. But then we get to follow Albus on to the Hogwarts Express, where, when he makes his first friend, we get our first surprise. Albus is at the center of most of the action, but the classic characters get plenty of lines, too. This isn't a "passing of the torch" story so much as a worthy capstone on the saga we already know and love.
I say that as praise, but one could argue that it's also this play's greatest failing. Some may be disappointed that this isn't really a new story so much as a variation on the themes of the old one. For my part, I think it's churlish to begrudge the opportunity to spend quality time with Harry, Ron and Hermione et al, especially since so much care has been taken to give them one more engaging adventure. J.K. Rowling has insisted that this is the last Harry Potter story we're ever going to get. But she's said that before, which leads me to hope that, someday, she'll be forced to say it again.
Jim Bennett is a recovering actor, theater producer and politico, and he writes about pop culture and politics at his blog, stallioncornell.com.