Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the new Harry Potter play based on the works of J.K. Rowling that's currently in showing at the West End's Palace Theatre and recently published in script form, shares a number of things with the series of novels that preceded it.
It's a story of magic, mystery, growing up misunderstood, and (of course) the power of friendship. Set 19 years after the great Battle of Hogwarts that saw Harry Potter vanquish the evil Lord Voldemort, The Cursed Child follows the story of Harry's middle child, Albus Severus Potter, as he struggles to find his place at Hogwarts.
Unlike his older brother, sister, and cousin (Hermione and Ron's daughter Rose), Albus is sorted into House Slytherin, a house revered for the number of dark witches and wizards that graduate from it. Albus, a natural introvert, doesn't know what to make of his sorting until he meets his first Hogwarts friend, Scorpius Malfoy, the son of his father's one-time rival and nemesis Draco.
As the play unfolds, it quickly becomes clear that The Cursed Child is interested in exploring the friendship dynamics of boys who feel like outcasts because of their family's legacies. Albus, being Harry's son, is expected to be a naturally fantastic wizard and Scorpius is tormented by rumors that he's actually Voldemort's illegitimate son. Rather than inheriting their fathers' former rivalry, the boys bond over their social statuses and form a uniquely queer relationship that J.K. Rowling never quite managed to get down onto the page.
Or, rather, all that would have been the case, if playwright Jack Thorne had done the sensible thing and let The Cursed Child be the gay coming-of-age romance that it was so clearly meant to be. The Cursed Child differs from other Potter productions in that it speeds through much of the characters' childhood years and spends the bulk of its time focusing on Albus and Scorpius in their mid-teens.
The boys are awkward and surly, but fiercely devoted to one another and their friendship. Romance factors into their lives here and there—Scorpius expresses a mild romantic interest in Rose, who wants nothing to do with him—and Albus feels a tingling of attraction towards a mysterious woman named Delphi who factors into the play much later on.
As is often the case with queer YA tales, though, neither of the boys' interactions with women come across as being anything other than deflection from the fact that their relationship is the most interesting and compelling in The Cursed Child.
After Albus and Scorpius decide to embark on an adventure that involves jumping off the Hogwarts Express, Harry grows worried that Albus is the "cursed child" foretold of in a prophecy that could end in a great calamity.
The curse, Harry reasons, is Scorpius, whom he believes is a negative malevolent presence in his son's life. Albus attempts to reason with his father that Scorpius is anything but a curse upon him, but Harry, having something of a complicated history with curses and prophecies, disagrees and forbids him from seeing his friend ever again:
HARRY: And why — why did you run? Because of me? Because of what I said?
ALBUS: I don’t know. Hogwarts isn’t actually that pleasant a place when you don’t fit in.
HARRY: And did Scorpius — encourage you to — go?
ALBUS: Scorpius? No.
HARRY looks at ALBUS, trying to see almost an aura around him, thinking deeply.
HARRY: I need you to stay away from Scorpius Malfoy.
ALBUS: What? Scorpius?
HARRY: I don’t know how you became friends in the first place, but you did, and now — I need you to —
ALBUS: My best friend? My only friend?
HARRY: He’s dangerous.
ALBUS: Scorpius? Dangerous? Have you met him? Dad, if you honestly think he’s the son of Voldemort . . .
HARRY: I don’t know what he is, I just know you need to stay away from him.
The impact of being torn apart becomes the emotional focal point of the entire play as the boys struggle to fix the gargantuan mistakes they make in their attempts to make their worlds more bearable. But because the play never gives the boys a chance to really lean into their intense emotions that could easily be read as romantic, the story never really takes off an a meaningful way.
In 2007, after the publication of the last Harry Potter novel, J.K. Rowling announced that while she'd never explicitly written it into her books, she'd always imagined the relationship between Dumbledore and his longtime friend Gellert Grindelwald as a romantic one.
"I had always seen Dumbledore as gay, but in a sense that’s not a big deal," Rowling explained. "The book wasn’t about Dumbledore being gay. It was just that from the outset obviously I knew he had this big, hidden secret."
Rowling's admission that she'd always imagined Dumbledore as a gay man was a boon to many queer Potter fans who who longed for LGBT representation on the page, but The Cursed Child feels like a missed a missed opportunity to tell an all-new Harry Potter story expressly focused on the queer people we know are living in the world of witchcraft and wizardry.