Where were you on the night of July 8, 2000? A) In line to get a copy of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. B) Dressed up in a robe, striped tie, with a scar tattoo and a magic wand? C) Both A & B. D) At home (probably under a rock somewhere) wondering what a hairy potter was.
If you picked D, you might want to go back in time and change that. You could get wrapped up in the Harry hype, dye your hair black, wear round glasses, and rig up an elaborate system of pulleys and invisible string to make it look like you could actually pull off a real life wingardium leviosa spell.
That would be a lot fun, but you can't do it. And even if you could, you shouldn't…because your presence at the Harry Potter launch party could change time as we know it. You could set events into motion that lead to the death or disappearance of a family member, the collapse of society, or a parallel universe where Alan Rickman didn't play Severus Snape.
In a literal sense, it's dangerous to try and change the past. But we humans mull over past events and conjure up an infinite number of what if? scenarios all the time. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child explores the danger of being stuck in the past—literally and figuratively. And magically.
Harry learns that, even when given the opportunity to literally change the past, he shouldn't take it.
Literally everyone who tries to change the past ends up worse off in the new present. In the first timeline, Scorpius is left without Rose, the girl he has a crush on. In the second timeline, Albus doesn't even exist. And when trying to make a third timeline, Delphi is captured and put into Azkaban.
At Hogwarts, students learn spells for everything. They can levitate objects, unlock doors, repair broken glasses, and literally transform themselves into animals and other people. But one thing magic can't do is eliminate the years-long torture of teen angst, the results from fumbling toward an identity in an uncertain, confusing world.
Magic should make this search for an ideal self into an easier journey. A flick of the wrist, a wave of the want, a "self-actualizio!" spell, and poof: it's all figured out.
But magic doesn't work that way. In fact, it might be even more confusing to find out who you are when magic spells are whizzing past your ears and the threat of dark wizards always lies on the horizon. In Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, we watch two fifteen-year-olds try to figure out who they really are…and a forty-year-old who still isn't quite sure.
Harry's upset that Albus isn't like him, but Albus is more like Harry than he's willing to admit: stubborn, reckless, but ultimately trying to do good.
Scorpius is inspired to be a better person after seeing what he can do in the world where Albus doesn't exist, but Scorpius wants to be a better person because Albus is in his life, so he must reconcile these two aspects of his identity.
Over the course of the Harry Potter series, we watched Harry go from an orphan trapped like a prisoner in the Dursley household into a young man who learned that he didn't have to accept the family he was born into. He could make his own.
Harry always felt at home with the Weasleys, so it didn't come as a surprise to us when he married into the Weasley clan at the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Now Harry has a family of his own: a wife, a daughter, and two sons. But one of those sons wishes he were an orphan.
Ouch. How did Harry Potter, the legit greatest orphan of all time, end up with a son who doesn't want him as a dad? Harry Potter and the Cursed Child shows that having a family isn't necessarily a goal. Harry's life isn't done and complete just because he has a family. It's constant work to keep his family together.
Albus, Harry, and Delphi all have one thing in common: they just want to know their fathers.
Harry wants all of his children to be just like him, in a way, but he can't see that Albus is drawn to the darker aspects of Harry's personality. By not wanting Harry Potter as a dad, Albus is being like Harry Potter.
Harry Potter grew up with one disappointment in life after another. Life isn't exactly a thrill a minute when you live in a cupboard under the stairs. Hogwarts, a school of magic and mystery, would be amazing to anyone, but it was extra amazing to Harry Potter, a boy who had nothing. Not even parents.
As a result, Harry looks back at his time at Hogwarts with rose-colored glasses. In Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Harry can't understand why his own son, Albus, isn't having the same magical, life-changing time that he had.
At forty, is Harry already too old to forget what life was like at ten years old? No wonder Albus is disappointed in his relationship with his dad. Harry can't remember what it was like to be his son's age, and can't relate to him at all. Someone should take off Harry's rose-colored glasses, smash them, and make sure he never utters an oculus reparo.
Disappointment often leads to guilt and/or regret, two emotions that chew at Harry Potter throughout the play.
The characters in this play often try to go back in time to fix their disappointing memories, only to make things worse.
Harry Potter found his best friends—Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley—aboard the Hogwarts Express when he was ten. Ever since, the three have been basically inseparable.
Albus Potter finds his BFF aboard the Hogwarts Express, just like his dad did—that's the magic of the Hogwarts Express, we guess. However, Albus' friend, Scorpius, is far from the type of friend Harry wishes his son had. Harry doesn't like his son being buds with the son of his rival…and especially not with a kid who's rumored to be the son of Voldemort.
But Albus and Scorpius show us that you can't really control who you become friends with. They may have chosen to be friends with one another the first day aboard the train, but in a way, their friendship chose them.
Friendship has always been an important theme in Harry Potter, maybe more than we realized. We learn definitively that one reason Draco Malfoy was so terrible in the original seven books is because he was lonely.
Hermione's daughter, Rose, appears to be making friendships based on superficial judgements. Albus and Scorpius, on the other hand, form a deep, lasting friendship.
Harry's a big deal in the Potterverse (they call it Potterverse for a reason). He's the boy who slayed Voldemort, and everyone knows his name and his face. And, as a result, his children have some massively big shoes to fill.
Albus, in particular, has a steep road to climb in order to live up to the great Harry Potter. The Cursed Child is a tale of living in the shadow of fame, and learning how to make your own light.
The "Cursed Child" of the title is Albus Potter, who's cursed by his own father's fame.
Albus's pressure to be the next Harry Potter isn't all in his head. Other kids at school taunt him for being put into Slytherin, not being able to fly well, and basically any mistake he makes.
Betrayal is common in the Harry Potter universe. In Harry's first year, one of his trusted teachers had Voldemort's head growing from the back of his own, for Dumbledore's sake. Harry couldn't turn a corner at Hogwarts without bumping into a kid or adult with ties to the Death Eaters. Harry even ended up betraying himself in a way, when he turned out to be a Horcrux.
So yeah, betrayal is pretty much par for the course in Harry's world. We expect someone to get double-crossed (maybe even triple) during the course of the play.
However, for the younger characters in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, like Albus and Scorpius, betrayal stings much more. Not only are they younger, but Hogwarts isn't the teeming nest of Death Eaters it once was. Betrayal's harder to handle when it comes from people that are on the side of right.
Both Harry and Albus prioritize their own problems over their relationship as father/son. When they put their own problems first, they betray each other.
Betrayal isn't always a bad thing. Snape betrays Voldemort, and Draco betrays the Ministry by lying about the Time-Turner, but later letting them use it when necessary.
Most magic is inherently deceitful. Alohomora spells unlock locks that aren't meant to be broken. (Why else would they be locked?) Transfiguration spells and Polyjuice Potion change a person's appearance more than the most expensive makeup from Sephora ever could. And love potions force people into situations of dubious consent.
So it's no surprise that wizards and witches play fast and loose with the truth. In Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Harry lies about the Time-Turner to Amos Diggory. Hermione hides it in her office. Scorpius says he lost it at the bottom of the lake.
Maybe the Time-Turner needs to be renamed to Time-Travel-and-Lying-Device, because everyone lies about it.
When Harry omits the truth, he's lying to himself as much as he's lying to his son.
Everyone lies about the Time-Turner because changing time itself is a big lie. It's pretending the present doesn't exist, and disregarding everything that happened between the past and now.