“London is the great beehive of Christendom…she swarms with people of all ages, natures, sexes, callings…she seems to be a glutton, for she desires always to be full.” [Donald Lupton]
“London, Baby!!!” [Joey Tribbiani]
Oh, England…what a country! Besides being the home of countless ancestors to people of the United States (and historically a weird conglomeration of family and countrymen turned war enemies), it has given people all over the globe worlds and worlds of fantasy and fiction that have created metropolis populations of geekdom. Shakespeare, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling, Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Who, Downton Abbey, et al, all in some way consider or considered England their home. And while America has given us countless works of fiction in literature, TV and movies to enjoy, the best and most refined contributions (in my opinion) come from the homeland.
If Only We Got Our Tickets By Owl
I don’t geek out over too many things but I do for Harry Potter. Introduced to me by my wife less than three years ago, I’ve already been through the entire 4100-page (U.S. version count) book series 7 times and the movies several times each. And when I learned in late 2015 there was a new story being added called Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, in play form and only showing in London, I woke up at an ungodly hour in Chicago one Thursday morning to get in a cyber line to purchase tickets. The earliest tickets I could get were January 2017. And after buying the tickets, for the next 14 months my wife and I planned our journey to London which would be the first time for both of us.
Hermione bails Harry Out – Again
I speak to this next part not to complain but to brag on my wife. Other than winter and snow, the most mundane and monotonous part of life I loathe the most is actually traveling. Doesn’t matter if it’s plane, train, bus, or car, getting from point A to point B has caused me more frustration than I can quantify due to road work, rain, snow, delays, cramped spaces, etc. It makes me feel utterly helpless. So after we had a problem-free flight from Chicago to London via British Airways on Wednesday night/Thursday morning, I was pumped that this trip would be free of all that.
Then we got on our coach bus to go from the airport to our hotel, which I’d booked on Expedia. Turned out, the bus only went downtown, not to our hotel. The fine print said this, but if you did not know London’s transit terminology there was no way to know. So there we were, in downtown London, miles away from our hotel, in a place we’d never been before.
I was on zero sleep from the overnight flight. My brain was dead and I was half-delirious, angry and very disoriented. And my wife, who is very much like Hermione, stepped up! Using technology in a way I could not, she got us from the bus station to the London Underground and then figured out how to get us from the Underground HQ to our hotel. It was amazing. I was ashamed that my 15 years of big city living didn’t help me to lead us in that moment, but I am proud of my wife for not letting a transportation issue ruin the beginning of our trip.
On With the Show This Is It!
The play was two acts over the course of two nights, the first one being a few hours after we finally got to our hotel. Even though we were exhausted and jet lagged, the first act blew us away (see a review at the end of this article). And I knew we were in for the trip of a lifetime.
The following day (Friday), we obviously wanted to do some sightseeing during the day before the second part of the play that night, and I really wanted to geek it up. So I was determined that our first stop would be King’s Cross, Platform 9 3/4, since it is such a big deal in the Harry Potter books.
Man was that fun! The London Underground has enshrined the fictitious platform stop into a full-on tourist attraction with a cart halfway through the wall at the stop (as though entering it by magic, per the books) and enthusiastic employees there to give you a wand to hold, a Hogwarts house colored scarf (Gryffindor for me, although I may be realizing I am indeed a Slytherin) to wear, and a professional to take a picture of you entering the platform with the cart as if you were Harry himself. This is a major tourist attraction and there was a roller coaster type line and wait time to do it. Totally worth it. I’ll be telling my kids about it and hopefully they will get to do it one day, maybe when they are 11 (wink, wink).
After the picture they led you into shop with outrageously priced but super cool HP merchandise. I’ve wanted a plush Dobby for a long time and this was the place to get it. My wife and I are both frugal so there are few things I can tell you about how much I adore Dobby than I spent 28£ (about $37) to buy one. I love me some Dobby!
There are other minor Harry Potter real London references that I wanted to see (Millennium Bridge, Tottenham Court Road) and I would have been satisfied with just that since this was a geek trip for me, but my wife being a good teacher and wise woman guided us to see the best of London. And I’m glad she did. It would have been foolish to go all that way and not to have seen Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, the Borough Market, London Bridge, the rebuilt Globe theater and so much more with our own eyes. (Although I did channel my inner Swanson to say, “Ooh, a clock. We don’t have one of those in America.”)
In addition to the sites, we adored the food (fish and chips, mate) and the accents. I could listen to English people talk all day! Living in Chicago, I also appreciated all the cultures that were there, many of them visiting like we were (I assume). We regularly heard conversations in French, Polish, Russian and languages I didn’t recognize. I even got to hear Spanish spoken with an British accent! My mind and heart were dancing like Chris Farley singing Flashdance with mud all over him. Try to imagine Minerva McGonagall saying “compadre.” Go ahead, do it! Hilarious, right?
For Better, For Worse, When at Home, When Abroad
I’m not writing this just to tell you what we did but why we did it. I confess that I fall prey to wanting to use social media for self-promotion but this trip wasn’t about that at all. When I decided to buy these tickets I had one thing in mind: my marriage, and more specifically, my wife.
I am not wise in and of myself, but I think I know wisdom when I hear it. And many people have told me to consider investing gifts to my wife as experiences more than things. And this was an attempt at that. Other than Dobby (which I bought for myself) and a couple of magnets, we came back with nothing we didn’t bring. But we have memories for a lifetime.
I really never guessed way back in the Spring of 2014 when Kayla was explaining to me her philosophy of studying by saying “I’m pretty much Hermione Granger” that this would be the start of something that we would bond over. Harry Potter has deepened our relationship and to get to go to the place that inspired it and was home to the play of its 8th story was unforgettable.
I want to give my thoughts on The Cursed Child. Do not read further if you do not want it spoiled for you.
Review of “The Cursed Child” (Major Spoilers)
I confess I have mixed feelings about this addition to the Harry Potter canon. It was riveting to see more added to this world, but it was weird in the same way that it is weird to go back to the house I grew up in and finding my parents have added new rooms or knocked down walls and combined rooms or have redone the bathroom. They didn’t really change anything per se but they involved so much of the original story from new angles it twisted my heart and mind. I’ll break my thoughts into the Good and the Bad.
- Draco Malfoy’s son Scorpious (played by Anthony Boyle) was funny, endearing, and the star of the show to me. Well done. I cannot believe a next generation story features a Malfoy upstaging a Potter, but it happened.
- Draco’s story arc is more defined than how Rowling left it at the end of TDH, including the Epilogue. I suppose she didn’t want to make Draco into a complex hero like Snape, nor an utter villain. But it left me wanting more of what became of his life. This beyond fulfilled that and I loved that he is more or less a “good guy” 20 years later on good terms with our three heroes. If you recall in the books several times he expressed that he wished Hermione would be killed, and was willing for Katie Bell and Ron to die to kill Dumbledore, among other sins. He is almost entirely repentant from that life.
- Having 40-year old Harry watch his parents die was heart-shattering. Tears on top of tears.
- The Palace Theater spares no expense on special effects and I was blown away by how they accomplished “magic” in play form. Polyjuice potion, casting Patronuses (or is it ‘Potroni‘?), etc. were all done so well I could not believe I was watching something live.
- The scene with Harry and Dumbledore. IN-TENSE. Every HP story needs one. They explored things about that relationship hereunto unexplored. Enthralling.
- Albus Potter was, sadly, quite bland. Especially next to Scorpious, his best friend. I didn’t connect with him at all, which is so odd since I have never connected to a fictional character the way I connect to Harry.
- On that note, the conflict between Harry and Albus was missing something. There wasn’t much depth to their story and naming this play after Albus feels wrong. He wasn’t “cursed” to me and the story about him and his father was upstaged by other things. I really thought this would be an emotional subplot about a boy living in his father’s shadow but it swung and missed on that note. Albus just felt like a whiner, not a victim.
- They relied too much on time travel to work in the original story. I know they did that to hook in Potterheads everywhere to a deeper emotional level but it came off as lazy to me. I think they should have tried to develop (as best they could in a four-hour play) character depth of new characters and old in the true 19 to 22 years later setting. I felt pulled in too many directions and too many plots were cut off too quickly (namely the alternate universe where Harry was dead).
- They could not help this, but too many characters were hurt by not having something close to their movie counterparts play them, especially Hagrid and Snape. I also didn’t like Dumbledore but I don’t like the movie Dumbledores either.
- The primary villain leaves a lot to be desired. The offspring of Bellatrix and Voldemort should be beyond terrifying. She wasn’t.
I could go on but that’s a lot. Do not get me wrong; I loved the play and I’m only as critical as I am because I love the series so much. If you have questions, comments or reactions to any of this, especially the play review, comment below!