REVIEW: “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – The Journey” by Jody Revenson

hpcursedI am one of the (seemingly) few people who really liked the script for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but I felt it had a lot of really interesting ideas and it explored some themes that I thought were worthwhile to explore in a Harry Potter story. But more than that, it seemed like the kind of story that could only work on stage; the kind of production that would have taken countless amounts of people and manhours to pull off. As someone who is literally in university studying theatre, the making of a play as huge as this one was always going to be of interest to me, especially as there’s little chance I’ll be able to make it to Broadway anytime soon to actually see this show staged. So, when Scholastic decided to publish this book all about how the play was created and initially staged, I jumped at the chance to read it. It’s exactly up my wheelhouse, and I have to say that the book does prove to be a really interesting and informative look at the making of this show – even if I do wish it went into a bit more depth.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: The Journey by Jody Revenson
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is one of the most celebrated stage productions of the past decade. Opening in London’s West End in 2016, on Broadway in 2018, in Melbourne in 2019 — and with more productions worldwide still to come (including San Francisco later this year) — the play has smashed records, collected countless rave reviews and awards, and captivated audiences night after night. Now readers are invited behind the scenes to experience the show’s journey to the stage — from the earliest phases of development with producers Sonia Friedman and Colin Callender, to the crafting of the eighth Harry Potter story with J.K. Rowling, director John Tiffany, and playwright Jack Thorne, to the gathering of an extraordinary team of artists and actors together to bring this new part of Harry Potter’s story to life.

With stunning photography, insightful interviews, and never-before-seen sketches, notes, candid backstage photos, and more, this full-color deluxe edition offers readers unparalleled access to this unique production, and is a beautiful gift for Harry Potter fans and theater lovers alike.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: The Journey is very similar to the books produced by HarperDesign for the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts films. It gives a broad overview of the overall production of the play, accompanied by a wealth of interviews with the talent behind the scenes and numerous pictures of the play/concept art/sketches/etc. Here, the book is structured to basically follow the timeline of the development of the play. It starts with the initial story meetings, featuring interviews with Jack Thorne, John Tiffany,  Sonia Friedman, and J.K. Rowling. This section isn’t very long (maybe 10% of the book) and doesn’t reveal a whole lot of new information about the creation of the play as the interviews seem to be sourced from previously conducted ones released to other outlets/via video (one of which is even embedded in the ebook version of the book). But it’s still nice having them all in one place to look at and see just what Thorne, Tiffany, and Rowling were trying to explore with the play and why they made some of the choices they did – and how those choices were filled with love for the source material.

The rest of the book focuses on the actual development of the piece, from its earliest workshops all the way to its debut on Broadway, and it’s here that we get the most interesting new information. Revenson spends a great deal of time discussing the creation of the sets and the costumes for the show, interviewing the respective designers for each department, and it’s so fascinating hearing how they approached the material and what steps they took to ensure the play felt like it was part of the Wizarding World without just being derivative of the films. There is some really interesting information about the creation of some of the more magical elements of the show – the Dementors, the moving staircases, etc – but there’s also a lot that’s kept a secret so as not to spoil the onstage magic at play. In general, Revenson’s writing style is easy to read and gives the whole affair a nice, breezy feeling as she goes from subject-to-subject and person-to-person. There are tons and tons of pictures throughout this section that help illustrate what Revenson and/or the interviewee is discussing in that section and it’s really nice getting to see some of the detail work on the sets/props/costumes up close in a way that you’d never get to if you just saw the show. Overall, it’s a great read and I really enjoyed it.

As always, my complaint about this book is the same as it’s been for the previous Wizard World behind the scenes books: I wish it went more in-depth on certain areas. I understand the desired page count tends to restrict just how much Revenson can explore any given subject and I understand that this team, in particular, is really committed to protecting the secrets of how the stage magic is actually executed, but as someone intensely interested in how plays are made, I can’t help but wish Revenson had been able to really dive deep into some of the work from the various departments – most notably the sound/light/scenic departments. But those are also probably the hardest ones to talk about in a book since they rely so heavily on visuals and what can actually be seen by the audience in the theatre. As much as I love these books, I sort of always wish they were just two-hour documentaries instead, so we could actually see a lot of this stuff happen instead of just reading about it. But still, it’s not that big of a problem; the book is trying to be a broad overview of the creation of Cursed Child and it definitely succeeds at accomplishing that.

Overall, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: The Journey is a must-read for fans of theatre and of Harry Potter alike. Even if you didn’t love the play’s script, I still think this book is worth reading as it really gives an insight into just how many people worked on this show. It wasn’t just a thing that was written by a couple of writers and staged with a few people; there were hundreds of designers, crew members, cast, and other creatives involved in bringing this show to life and it’s such a joy getting to read about them and their contributions and how all of this led to the creation of the show. As always, I find myself wishing there could be even more information – or that it could simply be a feature-length documentary or something – but that’s just me and my desire to always know more about how art is made. For the average person, this book will be more than enough to quench their thirst and inform them about how this play was put together.

4 out of 5 wands.

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