“Cursed Child” Creative Team Discusses the Play’s Origins
The producers of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Sonia Friedman and Colin Callender, along with playwright Jack Thorne, director John Tiffany, and actors Jamie Parker and Noma Dumezweni, who will be playing Harry and Hermione, respectively, have given a little more insight into the eagerly awaited play’s origins.
So whose idea was it to create a Potter stage play? Friedman explains,
It was absolutely Colin’s [sic] and my idea. We knew that many other producers had approached her, and she had rejected their pitches. But that’s because they were all ideas about musicals or arena spectacles. We went to her with the simple idea of a straight play. We were clear we didn’t want to adapt a novel, and we suggested exploring how Harry, an orphan, would cope as an adult and a parent.
We went up to Edinburgh four years ago and sat in a boardroom and talked about fathers and parenting for a while. We said we felt she had created a fully dimensional world, and there were things about the characters she hadn’t revealed. We didn’t hear anything for a bit, then got the call to say, ‘Let’s go to the next stage.’ She was clear from the beginning that she was not a playwright and wouldn’t write it and that she would only do it if we found a playwright she approved.
They were then faced with the task of finding the right person for the job. How did Thorne, the eventual playwright, come into the picture? Friedman says,
We actually thought first about who might direct. I’ve been wanting to work with John for 20 years, and he has turned down all my suggestions. I loved his work in ‘Black Watch’ and ‘Let the Right One In,’ the kinds of effects he achieved from nothing. So we approached him, and he said we have to do it with Jack.
Interestingly, Tiffany and Thorne actually knew each other from Cambridge University. Thorne explains,
John came to give a reading when I was a student there, and I approached him afterward, and he was terribly nice and kind enough to read my terrible plays. Then he ran off to run the National Theater of Scotland.
They both share story credit with Rowling herself. Tiffany divulges what it was like to have three writers in the mix.
Jo Rowling was incredibly generous. I met her first, and I already had a soft spot for her because she used to write in the cafe of the Traverse Theater in Edinburgh when I was the director. It was only after the first book came out that I realized it had been her, nursing one cappuccino for four hours. When we met to talk about the play, she asked, ‘What do you think the Harry Potter stories are about?’ I said, ‘Learning to deal with death and grief.’ There was something in her eye — I thought, we didn’t say it’s about transformation or magic or flying on brooms, and we’re on the right track.
We all met in Edinburgh, and as the day developed, we knew we would take the epilogue of ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ as a starting point.
Seems like the natural point to start the new story, as Tiffany explains,
All the seeds are there; we start with that scene in the train station. Am I allowed to say that? Anyway, it was clear that she was going to let us take those characters and have our own ideas.
Is it true that the whole arc of the story was sketched out in that first initial meeting? Thorne reveals,
Yes, but then it took about six months to really map the whole thing out. Every time it was like taking a big step forward, one or two small ones back. Jo would say, ‘This feels right, this doesn’t.’
In what is sure to ruffle feathers with some fans, Tiffany goes on to say that they were even allowed to “unravel” the canon,
There are parts of the story, which when we first conceived them, I didn’t think she would let us do, but she never hesitated. It is one thing to let us continue the story, another to let us unravel the canon.
What about the idea to split the play into two separate parts? That wasn’t the plan from Day 1, right? Tiffany says,
No, not at all. But we knew we had to deal with going beyond where the books left off but also go back and look at the stories within them. We wanted to develop the characters that are already known and keep that consistency but also introduce new ones. It was clearly hard to put an epic tale into two-and-a-half hours. We had a meeting and said, ‘Why not two parts?’ And we knew right away how we wanted to end the first part. It’s a cliffhanger.
It does that wonderful thing that books do when they work; it makes you desperate for more story.
What are the main differences in presenting the story as a play rather than a novel? Thorne says,
We can tell the story of the younger and older generation at the same time, which the books didn’t do. The exciting thing has been working out how those worlds fit together. It’s a coming-of-age story as much for the adults as for the children. John and I are more or less the same age as Harry in the play, and I just had my first child, so there has been a lot of discussion about growing up, being a parent.
Also, I think the difference with a play is that you’re not experiencing the story on your own the way you do with a book. Being in the theater is a communal experience, and this play, with two parts, is a commitment. I’m fascinated to see what my daughter will think after a whole day in the theater. As an actor, it’s something I’ve never experienced before.
How does it feel for Parker and Dumezweni to be playing two characters that a huge fan base feel so possessive about? Parker says,
It’s not so different from playing any role that is within a canon. You have the responsibility of being sensitive to the collective investment in the story. But you just have to try to serve the play the best way you can and not worry about that.
Dumezweni definitely feels the “weight of expectation.”
The weight of expectation is huge. But for me that pressure has been outweighed by getting text messages from mums I know saying how huge it is for their mixed-race daughters that I am playing Hermione. Ultimately it’s a theater piece; I’m a theater actor and doing a job as best I can.
Has it been difficult to work under conditions of extreme secrecy? Furthermore, is the team worried, with previews starting tonight, that fans will take to social media to talk openly about the play? Callender says,
I’m hopeful after seeing how people were about ‘Star Wars.’ They mostly protected the fans.
Although, Tiffany admits,
It will be a relief when the text if published when the play officially opens on July 30 so that it’s not our secret to keep. But if you don’t read it, and you choose not to read reviews, we’ve made it possible to come without prior knowledge.
I’ve quite loved the secrecy. Although, of course, my home life is [expletive]. My daughter tries to guess what is in the play. She says, ‘Just smile at me if I’m right.’
For Tiffany, his mother is the only problem, as he explains,
Everyone else is fine. She asks really specific questions; then I discovered people are quizzing her in her local supermarket.
Surely, it’s Parker, though, who has the best response.
When people ask, I just pull out a wand, and go ‘I’m a wizard!’
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child begins previews tonight, Tuesday, June 7, at the Palace Theater in London. The play’s text will be released in bookstores worldwide on July 31. Have you got your tickets yet? Or are you eagerly awaiting the release of the script next month? Let us know your thoughts!