Harry Potter and the Cursed Child NEEDS a simulcast
That’s not exactly a radical statement, I know. But I was lucky enough to see Cursed Child in previews last week, and that was one of my strongest feelings once I stepped out of the theatre. This is a story that needs to be seen, and everyone should have a chance to see it.
NB: This post does NOT contain plot spoilers for Cursed Child, but it DOES contain emotional reaction spoilers — purists beware.
In an ideal world, everyone would get to see Cursed Child in the theater, as it was designed. The story could potentially be translated for film, but after experiencing the play, I agree 100% with JK Rowling that this is something that should be experienced on stage.
But we don’t live in an ideal world. I was incredibly lucky that I could easily travel to London, afford to buy tickets, be flexible enough in my schedule to buy them for any day, and literally take an afternoon off work just to wait in a virtual queue for even the chance to buy them. And even if geography, time and expense weren’t concerns, the play can only be seen by about 5000 people a week per production, thanks to its two-part structure. It would take years and years for every fan to be able to see it, even if privilege and location weren’t factors here.
The production’s answer to this problem, so far, has been to release a script book later this week, so that everyone can have access to the story at around the same time. But reading a script isn’t the same as seeing a play — every highschool English teacher teaching Shakespeare will tell you that. And in fact, I wonder if releasing the script book isn’t worse than doing nothing at all. It will give everyone access to the story, but in doing so, it undermines the power of the play itself. People need to be able to see it, not read it.
I think this has already been proved by the huge divide in responses to Cursed Child‘s story. People are coming out of the theatre and raving about how amazing it was. People are reading spoilery plot summaries online and working themselves up into a disgusted frenzy of WTF. Those reading spoilers are wondering how the people seeing the play can be so deluded to think that story is good, and I’m sure people who’ve seen the play, like me, will be left slightly wrongfooted when they come out of a theatre, full of happiness, legs shaky from emotion, then turn to fandom and find that everyone is shouting about it being the Worst Thing Ever.
All I can say, without spoiling certain plot points, is that the play is an experience. The plot is a little convoluted, but when you watch it, it feels convoluted in a Harry Potter-ish way. And it’s not just that there’s something special about seeing characters on-stage, or seeing the stagecraft recreate magic. So much of the characters is in the performance, and one character in particular has become my favorite character ever, based mostly on the actor’s great performance and spot-on comedic timing. There are many very visual moments that simply can’t be conveyed by stage directions on the page: the play is both very scary and incredibly dark, and a line on a page really won’t be able to capture that. The play also uses the entire theatre, in surprising and very gripping ways. And by the entire theater, I mean outside the performance area as well — the gift area, the hallway, all are used in unexpected ways to pull you into the story.
I’m fairly certain that Harry Potter fandom will love certain scenes, regardless of how they experience them. You don’t get facial expressions or inflection in a script, but I’m sure fans will easily fill in the blanks during character-focussed dialogue scenes to savor them too. But the play as a whole? I don’t think it will come across well.
And fans without tickets are also forced to miss out on the group experience aspect of the play. The fan costumes and the shared excitement, yes, but also the experience of discovering new twists in this beloved world together. The audience when I saw it had some intense reactions. One gasp of absolute shock and horror really stands out to me, but the whole play was an experience of being terrified together, of feeling dread and excitement together, of cheering and laughing together. There’s something incredibly special about experiencing that gasp-inducing Harry Potter twist, and hearing a thousand other people gasp and recoil along with you, knowing that everyone around you is discovering this for the very first time.
The script book not only fails to provide that experience, it also takes that experience away from future audiences. If everyone goes in already knowing what all these plot twists are, they can never truly feel the power of that shared moment. I am writing this from a place of extreme privilege, as someone lucky enough to get tickets for before the book comes out, but I wish that the creators had found a way to preserve something of that experience while letting many people experience it, rather than making it so that almost no-one gets to experience it at all.
A simulcast wouldn’t solve all of these problems. People still wouldn’t be able to experience the magic of simply being there, any effects that use the whole theatre would be lost, and the language barrier would remain until we see foreign language productions. But it would come the closest to offering the experience to as wide an audience as possible, and add its own element of magic, as fans would gather at the cinema and know that fans from all over the world would be experiencing the very same thing at that very same moment too. Instead of a gasp shared between a thousand people, it would be a gasp shared between hundreds of thousands, even if they couldn’t all hear one another at the time.
It seems impossible to advise people to avoid spoilers for the play, with very little chance of seeing it in London, no dates for tours or other productions, and a book about to be released. But if you are one of the lucky few to have tickets, whether a week from now or several months from now, I really recommend that you avoid reading the book, and avoid spoilers if you can. Trust me, it’ll be worth it.
And for everyone else, the production needs to organize a simulcast. Everyone deserves to be able to see the play as a play — and until they do, there’s going to be a huge divide among fans, between those who saw the play (and probably loved it), and those who read the play (and probably didn’t).
NB: I will not approve any comments that contain plot spoilers for the play, and neither will I be giving out any spoilers. I’ll be posting my full, detailed review of the play next Monday, after the book has been released, and would love to have any plot-specific conversations then instead. 🙂