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Blog - Nina Muehlemann

Harry Potter and Disability: An almost spoiler-free review of ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’

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Photo of the tickets for 'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child'

Our tickets for the play – FYI, the view was perfect.

There are some definite perks when you are a disabled person or going out with one. Everyone knows about the parking, of course, but did you know that, just by being a crip or dating one, you can see the year’s most anticipated play, sold out until end of 2017, shortly after the premiere with very little effort on your behalf? Yup, thanks to great access provision at the London Palace Theatre, my darling husband and I got hold of the hottest tickets of the year, and we saw ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ 10 days after it opened. If that’s not a perk, I don’t know what is (Ok, so it’s mainly a perk for Potter geeks. But hey, there are many of us!).

Of course, I want to #keepthesecrets so I won’t give away major spoilers in this post. But as the play was written by Jack Thorne who has been involved with some fantastic disability-related projects for TV (Cast Offs, Don’t Take My Baby) and stage (The Solid Life of Sugar Water), I was curious whether disability would figure in this massive production at all.

The Harry Potter universe itself, as we know it from the books by JK Rowling, does contain its fair share of disability, even though disability itself is rarely the focus of the story. As a young ‘Potterhead’, I was keen to spot the characters who are disabled, such as Alastor Moody, a tough auror, teacher and fighter against dark magic who is missing an eye and a leg, or George Weasley, who lost an ear in the battle of Hogwarts. As a werewolf, Remus Lupin has to manage a long-term condition with medication that is at times difficult to obtain and often leaves him unwell from side effects. Then there are Dumbledore’s sister Ariana and Neville Longbottom’s parents, who are all permanently disabled through trauma and show that even in the wizarding world, disabled people can be excluded, isolated and relegated to hospitals or care homes.

In a fascinating essay about disability and illness in the Potter universe, Rowling explains that she decided that “broadly speaking, wizards would have the power to correct or override ‘mundane’ nature, but not ‘magical’ nature” – meaning that if the cause for someone’s disability is magical, such as a werewolf bite or an attack or curse by another wizard, there tends to be no cure, not even for the most skilled wizard.This gives Rowling the option to explore real-life conditions, but to present them to their readers under the guise of magic, which might make a reader, especially a young one, more willing to contemplate them in a new light. Rowling states in this essay that she ‘pondered the issue of illness and disability very early in the creation of Harry’s world.’ Rowling’s mother had MS, and in my personal opinion, Rowling tends to write disability well, with an awareness and thoughtfulness that is not often present in non-disabled writers.

Due to Rowling’s willingness to write about disability and Jack Thorne’s involvement, it might not come as a huge surprise that ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ does indeed feature disability, even though disability is not central to the plot. What disappointed me in the play was that disability was presented as something that only affects wizards of old age, and that there were no flying brooms that could carry a wheelchair. That is a fantastic opportunity right there, missed!

Yet, there is a scene that briefly explores what happens when magic and disability collide. In Rowling’s world, magic seems to very much depend on control –the witch or wizard has to be in control of their magic, and there are tight controls over who gets to use magic when and in front of whom. In that mentioned scene, it is made clear that disability can disrupt that control – this is not portrayed necessarily as something negative, but as the eruption of a joyful chaos that hints at the productive possibilities which could evolve from this collision.

Much like our real world, one can only wonder what would happen in the wizarding world if the potential of disability was something that was valued and recognized – in that regard, reality is closely mirrored. But for me, it was joyful to see this little nod to disability, even if no-one on stage seemed to have a real-life disability.The scene in question was another window into disability and illness within the magical world of Harry Potter and I know that my younger self would have definitely appreciated that. Of course, as a big fan of Thorne’s work and a Potterhead, I’m extremely biased and might have interpreted this scene more generously than others.

I solemnly swear, though, that this is a fantastic play that feels truly magical and features a wonderful cast. The staff at the London Palace Theatre were extremely friendly and forthcoming too.The play is sold out until late 2017, but, with a bit of luck, #disabilityperks might get you tickets for ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ much sooner than that.

Visit the website of ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Chil,d’ for tickets and access information here.

In addition for a user-friendly access guide visit this link to The Palace Theatre website where Harry Potter is showing. The guide includes interactive maps to show patrons exactly where they will be sitting in each venue and what the view is like.

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