StageScan Pick: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

The reviews of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at the Palace Theatre are finally out, with two-thirds of pro critics awarding five stars. Neil Norman (Express) described “a wholly authentic HP experience” and Sarah Crompton (What’s On Stage) typically admitted:I felt it was my critical duty to fight the hype” before acknowledging “a spectacle of epic sweep and magisterial grandeur… quite simply, magic.” Mark Shenton (The Stage) agreed it’s “charmed rather than cursed”. Michael Billington (Guardian) thought it “will make much more sense to hardened Potterheads” but Norman, who agreed, found it “so packed with incident that it barely matters”. Shenton declared it “a major work in its own right”.

Crompton praised Jack Thorne’s “sharp and masterfully structured” script and Shenton described “Dickensian sweep and momentum”. Billington observed “mythical strands”, Crompton praised its “subtle examination of… love… loneliness… loss… friendship” and Shenton found it “particularly poignant” on parenting. Billington appreciated “leavening humour” and Crompton praised “good jokes and swift insight”.

Shenton described, in the theatre “that most resembles Hogwarts”, a “stunningly-realised alternative universe” delivering “one coup de theatre after another” and joined general praise for Jamie Harrison’s “astounding illusions and magic”. Norman found it “refreshingly free of computer-generated trickery” reporting “moments when you simply cannot believe the evidence of your own eyes”. Crompton hailed John Tiffany’s “genius at using the tricks of the stage” to create both “literal magic” and “pure delight in the sense of what is possible” with “every single member of the creative and design team” contributing to creating “a place of teeming fantasy”. Billington praised “dazzling assurance”, reporting Tiffany and designer Christine Jones “have created magic out of the simplest ingredients” including “brilliant use of suitcases and portable stairways”. He highlighted “triumphant” Dementors, and Norman found them “Amazing and very, very scary”.

Crompton described “uniformly good and occasionally outstanding” performances and Shenton enjoyed  “fully rounded portraits”. He praised Jamie Parker’s “superb” Harry whom Norman found “looks exactly as you imagine”. Billington thought him “suitably distraught” and Crompton observed “just enough boyish charm”. Shenton thought young Albus Potter “beautifully played” by Sam Clemmett.

Billington enjoyed Anthony Boyle’s “wonderfully quirky” Scorpius Malfoy, Norman thought him “superb” and Crompton described “a career-making performance”. He also enjoyed Paul Thornley’s “bluntly commonsensical” Ron and Crompton felt Noma Dumezweni’s “ardent, clever Hermione… illuminates each moment she is on stage”. Shenton found the couple “finely etched” and praised “warmth, vulnerability and winning humour”.

Shenton hailed “a truly game-changing production” with “real integrity… playful and gripping, disturbing and detailed, poignant and powerful… superb” suggesting it could prove “one of the most influential and important theatre works of the century”. Crompton praised “a deeply theatrical experience, a love letter to theatre itself” concluding: ” I loved it… It is a triumph.”

StageScan Pick: Into the Woods

Fiasco Theater’s off-Broadway hit production of Sondheim and Lapine’s Into the Woods arrived at the Menier Chocolate Factory to almost unanimous four-star pro reviews.

Andrzej Lukowski (Time Out) described a “classic Brothers Grimm pastiche” and Henry Hitchings (Evening Standard) noted it’s one of their “most frequently revived” ascribing this to “a heady mix of escapist fantasy, violence and brilliant wordplay”. Neil Norman (Express) described a “musical masterpiece… wise and cynical, funny, frightening and sad.” Even a less enthusiastic Paul Taylor (Independent) admitted: “Fiasco make a spirited case for it”.

He enjoyed a “playfully pared-down” production, “putting the emphasis firmly on performance, text and story” and Lukowski felt the usual “fancy costumes and sets” had been “stripped away: all the better for us to see” the show’s “biting undertones”.

Taylor described stage design resembling “the shattered innards of some grand piano”. Lukowski reported a “discreetly Brechtian” feel, with cast “clad mostly in brown and white” who “double as the musicians” and “look like… a tide of humanity”.

Norman saw “no weak moments in the performances” while Lukowski found the ensemble “thoroughly loveable” and Taylor described “engaging wit and heartfelt warmth”. Among many performers variously singled out for praise, most consistently highlighted was Jessie Austrian, whom Taylor found “very funny and affecting”.

Taylor observed arrangements giving “pride of place” to the “upright piano” and its “wonderful sounds”. While Hitchings missed “the intricate textures of Sondheim’s tunes”, Taylor particularly praised “the depth of emotion in the singing” of Claire Karpen and Vanessa Reseland. He was among those feeling “the relative spareness” highlighted “the knotty, strutting nature of the music and the lyrics”. Hitchings agreed “the subversiveness of the lyrics” is “palpable”.

He judged the whole “earnest but often witty… full of humour” and “eloquent”. Taylor enjoyed the “big-hearted improvisatory feel” and felt it “manages to be joyously ingenious and teasingly incongruous without seeming too pleased with itself”, declaring it “a rather delightful surprise”. Lukowski agreed “It’s utterly charming”.

StageScan Pick: Faith Healer

Faith Healer at the Donmar Warehouse attracted a range of positive reviews, with five critics awarding five stars.

All praised what Mark Shenton (The Stage) called “Brian Friel’s haunting memory play”. Dominic Cavendish (Telegraph) hailed a “lyrically written chamber-piece” and Michael Billington (Guardian) admired the way separate monologues “advance the narrative, explore shifting realities and reveal character”.

Fairly typically, Cavendish judged Lyndsey Turner’s “beautifully measured and nuanced” production “flawless”, admitting “you need to concentrate… and wait, patiently”. Henry Hitchings (ES) thought Turner “alert to its fascination with rhythms and rituals”. He joined general praise for Es Devlin’s “striking design” explaining: “A silvery curtain of rain whips down between scenes, suggests ghostliness and grief.” Shenton described “a stark platform” on which, “with the anchoring shadows of Bruno Poet’s lighting, all attention is simply on the raw naturalism of the acting”.

He saw “the poetic grace and feeling of Friel’s script… achingly inhabited in the spellbinding intensity of the narrators” and hailed Stephen Dillane’s “poetic and powerful” Frank. Cavendish enjoyed the actor’s “dryness, wit, and unsettling directness of gaze” and Hitchings admired “a performance of real potency” capturing the character’s “mix of vanity and self-doubt”.

Cavendish found Gina McKee “cool, collected, mesmerising” although “she brims with sadness”, Hitchings described “a carefully measured inner turbulence” and Shenton detected “keen intelligence” in a performance Billington found “unforgettable”.

Unanimous praise greeted Ron Cook in a role he first played in 1994. Billington felt he “plays Teddy magnificently…. perky” yet “incredibly moving”. Shenton reported him “providing the evening’s only laughs” and Cavendish found him “a joy to watch”, noting his “knocking back the beer as if to purge himself of pain”.

Among the majority impressed by the whole, Shenton hailed a “quietly but persuasively phenomenal” play which, Billington said, “more than ever… struck me as a masterpiece”. Cavendish, who found it “exceptional, spellbinding” thought “its longevity re-confirmed”, concluding: “This is something special.”