Who’s Harry Potter, and what’s all this about a cursed child?
Yeah, very funny. Harry Potter is, of course, the most famous boy wizard in literature, and probably now eclipses Gandalf too as the most bankable wizard of them all. JK Rowling’s seven-book cycle ranks as the best-selling book series of all time (more than 450m copies worldwide) and its last four books broke records for fastest-sales too.
The celluloid spin-offs form the second highest grossing film series, raking in $7.7bn. Just when it looked as though Pottermania was subsiding after the final installment of Deathly Hallows (in 2011), last June it was suddenly announced that Rowling was going to add to the franchise in a theatrical way. Harry Potter and The Cursed Child will form the “eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage”. In other words, the saga continues…
When will all be revealed, and what do we know about the show so far?
The official opening is on July 30 at the Hogwartsian Palace Theatre, a magnificent gothic pile (built in 1891) bang in the heart of the West End. Expect a red carpet affair to out-dazzle even Leicester Square movie premieres. But there may well be a tsunami of information after the first preview performance of Part I on June 7, and a second wave of revelations after the first preview performance of Part II, which takes place two nights later on June 9.
That’s right, it has been developed as a two-part drama – which may cause a few logistical headaches for audiences wishing to slot the story together (see below) in the right order. The creative team have been sworn to secrecy but what with the need for teasers and the additional prospect of public dress-rehearsals in May, those involved may not be able to keep a lid on Potter-data, let alone Potter-hysteria, as the countdown intensifies. Plus, there was that synopsis.
So there was an official (Hollywood-style) ‘pitch’?
“It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children. While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.”
Is there nothing more to chew on than that…?
Surprisingly, we can already hazard strong guesses about what the evening(s) might entail. The Cursed Child picks up 19 years after Lord Voldemort was vanquished, which is where Rowling left us in her final Potter novel, Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows.
Circa page 615, readers joined Harry and his now-wife Ginny (nee Weasley, sister of Ron) at King’s Cross, waving off their middle-child Albus Severus to attend his first term at Hogwarts – along with eldest son James. Ron’s daughter Rose was also off to school, as was ‘little Scorpius’ – the son of schoolboy enemy Draco Malfoy. “He’ll be all right,” murmured Ginny as Harry involuntarily touched his lightning scar. The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years. All was well…”
Which is about as tart a set-up for a whole new adventure as one could wish for. In addition, in a 2014 piece on the Pottermore site, Rowling sketched out what might have become of the main characters too: Harry now an Auror – a member of an elite unit of specialist officers trained to apprehend Dark Wizards – and reluctantly enjoying with Ron (who runs a joke shop) and Hermione (now deputy head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement) the status of gradually greying celebs.
If Cursed Child was just a coda about Harry and Co having mid-life crises, it wouldn’t have been booked into such a large theatre. The show is suitable for ages 10 and up and has a cast of 34 – which suggests it’s going to be epic…
Who are the principal creatives and what are they saying, if anything?
Funnily enough, producer Sonia Friedman and her collaborator Colin Callender were the first people to have the idea to put a new Harry Potter play on stage, and took it to JK Rowling and her management. They were the people who introduced an on-board Rowling to director John Tiffany, Friedman told Radio Four’s Front Row, and then playwright Jack Throne was signed up too.
However, The Cursed Child is clearly Rowling’s baby, and her delight at returning to Planet Potter is manifest. Her announcement on Twitter (* 36,015 retweets, 44,466 likes) was succinct (“I’m very excited…”). But she was more forthcoming about the casting (see below).
Both director John Tiffany and playwright Jack Thorne are being credited as co-writers too, granting them unprecedented ability to help shape the tale. Tiffany has developed a reputation for “major-event” theatre, from his breakthrough Black Watch to the folky, feelgood musical Once.
He has said: “I’m conscious of bringing the fans what they love, doing this story justice and exploring the psychology of a grown up Harry Potter with the same epic sweep as the books and the films, but in a different way.”
He added: “I knew from seeing the excitement in the kids I’d shared the books with that we had to bring darkness back. There had to be new jeopardy.”
Thorne, 37, enjoyed a West End transfer with his 2013 adaptation of Swedish vampire flick Let the Right One In, directed by Tiffany (but he has made a bigger name for himself in TV working with Shane Meadows on the This Is England series). A fan to his bones, he declared: “I’d read all the books in my 20s and I’d go to the cinema and watch all the films by myself. I was deeply in love with Potter already, so the chance to do this…”
So, not Sir Trevor Nunn directing, or Simon Stephens writing…?
No, lesser-known names. And that applies to the casting too: Jamie Parker, cast as Harry, Noma Dumezweni (Hermione) and Paul Thornley (Ron) are not the sort of leads who in themselves will get the cash-tills ringing. But they are now poised to leap several notches up the fame ladder if all goes well.
Tiffany and team have struck a blow for diversity by casting the Swaziland-born Dumezweni as Hermione. While some took to social media to complain at this divergence from the Emma Watson ‘template’ on film, the more clued-up and fair-minded fans enthused about the decision.
Furthermore, faster than one could shout Expelliarmus!, Rowling tweeted: “Canon: brown eyes, frizzy hair and very clever. White skin was never specified. Rowling loves black Hermione.”
If Helen Mirren can play the Queen, then Dumezweni can play Hermione. It’s theatre, dear.
Will there be a live Quidditch Match?
Dunno, but Jeremy Chernick is in charge of special effects is Jeremy Chernick, and he apparently “specialises in making it snow, rain, burn, bleed and explode for the entertainment industry.”
Sounds like it might not be a let-down and in fact turn out nicely. How do we book?
You’ve left it a bit late to join the early birds or even the late afternoon birds. The best availability isn’t til early 2017, suggesting that Potter: The Play may start a worldwide migration crisis of its own. Failing that, a micro economic boom.
The show managed to set a West End record when it sold 175,000 tickets in 24 hours. The key issue is to ensure that you go the full Hogwarts, not just dip into one show.
The website points out: “On Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays there will be a matinee performance of Part I and an evening performance of Part II.
“One ticket will automatically secure you the same seat for both Part I and Part II on the same day. On Thursdays there will be an evening performance of Part I and on Fridays an evening performance of Part II.
“If you choose to see Part One on a Thursday evening, we will automatically book you into Part Two the following Friday evening…”
You may need to talk someone nice and calm on 0333 320 0750 to work it all out.
And what else?
Fans calling for a novelisation of The Cursed Child got a step closer on Friday, when the Little, Brown Book Group announced they would be publishing the script. While it’s not an eighth novel, Harry Potter and The Cursed Child Parts I and II topped Amazon and Waterstones best-seller charts within the day on pre-orders alone. Rowling and Thorne are just hoping nobody’s too disappointed by the presence of stage directions.
As for the play, who knows. The co-producer of the show, the Midas-fingered Sonia Friedman, promises twists and turns galore fit to have you on the edge of your seat, and the same probably applies to the production overall. You’d be advised to sign up to the e-mailing list to be first in the loop.