J.K. Rowling Opens Up About All Things “Cursed Child”
J.K. Rowling has spoken at length about the new play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, alongside playwright Jack Thorne and director John Tiffany in their only interview before the show begins previews at the Palace Theatre in London this Tuesday, June 7, 2016.
Very little has been revealed about the play since it was officially announced last June. Here’s what we do know: The production, which is split into two parts, takes place some point near where the epilogue for the final novel – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – left off. Nineteen years later, Harry is now an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic and married to Ginny Weasley. Their middle child, Albus Severus, who is rumored to be the Cursed Child of the story, is about to embark on his Hogwarts adventure.
The play’s synopsis reveals that 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.
So what does Rowling herself have to say about the plot? She teases,
The epilogue of the seventh book is a very clear pointer as to where I was interested in going. It’s very obvious from that epilogue that the character I was most interested in was Albus Severus Potter. And you see Scorpius on that platform.
Naturally, expectation for the production is slowly increasing with each passing day, although not just among the millions of fans. Rowling explains,
I’ve been awake since 4am. We were in the theatre last night, and I saw a scene that’s very close to my heart, in costume, on the set. And it was quite overwhelming.
How did the idea of a Potter stage play even materialize? It was all thanks to theater producer Sonia Friedman as Rowling recalls,
You can probably imagine I have been asked to do something else with ‘Harry Potter’ five times a week ever since the series ended. Sonia just wanted to explore a theatrical production, and I knew her by reputation obviously and thought I would really like to meet her and hear what she had to say.
The meeting was a success, and soon Friedman suggested bringing in Tiffany, whose past directing theater credits include the musical Once, Black Watch, and Let the Right One In, which Thorne adapted from the Danish novel and film. Rowling was already familiar with Thorne’s work, as the writer for TV of This is England, The Last Panthers, and The Fades and of plays such as Hope and The Solid Life of Sugar Water.
Soon the idea of telling a new story through a different medium with such collaborators became incredibly appealing, as Rowling explains,
That’s the reason this happened because I thought I will never have the opportunity to work with such great people again.
As it so happens, when Rowling first met Tiffany, she quickly realized that she had encountered him before – in the mid-’90s when she was a struggling single mother, writing the first Potter novel over numerous cups of coffee in three Edinburgh cafes. One of these cafes was at the Traverse Theatre, where Tiffany worked as assistant director. Tiffany recalls,
I was there meeting actors and writers a lot, and I remember seeing a woman writing, with a pram at her side. We got to saying hello and I remember once Jo said, ‘Do you mind if I’m here…’ Then a year or so later I realised who it had been. And she didn’t come to the Traverse any more.
Furthermore, it turns out that a certain Mr Jack Thorne is actually one of us, by that I mean a self confessed Potterhead! He reveals,
I was a total Potterhead. I still consider myself a Potterhead and I hope the Potterheads don’t hate me so much after this that I am never allowed to be one again.
He described himself as a “fantasy nerd” who lavishly read each novel and went to see each movie as it came out…
… on my own in a ‘Ghostbusters’ T-shirt, so people would realise I was there for the genre.
Tiffany was not aware of Thorne’s fandom background when he approached him to come on board as the writer. Thorne explains,
He asked me when we met at the tube station on the way to ‘The South Bank Show’ awards. And he said, ‘What do you think about it?’ And I went a bit nuts in the street. Only because I’m so incredibly shy, nobody would have seen or realised I was going nuts.
When he and Tiffany eventually went to meet Rowling at her home in Edinburgh, it was clear that the empathy between them went beyond that of a fan and an author. Rowling says,
Jack and I are similar in many ways. We’re both, notwithstanding how chirpy we are being right now, quite introverted people who are very happy alone in a room, and there are many parallels in our working practices, and I felt like he was one of my tribe.
Tiffany went on to reveal what drew him to the wizarding world,
When you’re growing up it’s very easy to feel lonely and insecure. And what Jo managed to capture, I think, was a world [that] made those people feel less lonely.
As we all know, the Potter fandom is ever increasing as new generations discover the novels and movies for the first time. What does Jo make of the huge amount of fans the series has amassed over the years?
I never set out to build a big community, but I don’t think there is a writer alive who wouldn’t want to have that many people react to their work. That’s what happened. People came inside the world with me.
The big reason why people loved ‘Potter’ was that it felt like it could be. That sense that there is more to the world. Just on the other side. Even within touching distance. There’s more. It is the promise of another world, and it doesn’t have to be a magical world, but to a lonely child or an insecure person or anyone who feels different or isolated, the idea of having a place where you do belong is everything.
Rowling, who despite contributing ideas and chunks of writing, wants to make it quite clear that the new play is written by Thorne. She felt confident in handing him the reigns to the wizarding world.
From the moment he produced the first outline, I thought bingo, that’s it.
Fans have often wondered why she wouldn’t pen the script herself, seeing as she is writing the screenplay for the upcoming film, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. She explains,
I am not so arrogant that I think when you’ve got an absolutely top-class playwright offering to do it that I’m going to say, ‘Well, I’ve never done it before, but I’ll do it.’ It’s a question of knowing the limits of your own competence. I was reasonably involved in the ‘Potter’ scripts. I’m more familiar with that world. I felt a degree of confidence writing a screenplay, but I had supreme confidence that Jack was going to write the play that I was going to love, and he has. So you can’t ask fairer than that.
Rowling has released several books since the last Potter book was released in 2007, including the Cormoran Strike novels and The Casual Vacancy. However, as she defiantly explains, the wizarding world will never truly leave her…
It was 17 years, and just because I’ve stopped on the page doesn’t mean my imagination stopped. It’s like running a very long race. You can’t just stop dead at the finishing line. I had some material and some ideas and themes, and we three [she nods at Tiffany and Thorne] made a story.
But I carry that world around in my head all the time. I am never going to hate that world. I love that world. But there are other worlds I want to live in too. To be perfectly honest, I just feel if I enjoy it, I’ll do it – and if I don’t, I won’t.
With the play and the Fantastic Beasts movie soon to be upon us, 2016 is shaping up to be what Rowling describes as “such a wizardy year.” She goes on to say,
I always said never say never, and the reason I said that was truthfully that I did have this residue in my head in both directions – in ‘Fantastic Beasts’, which is going back, and in this play, which is going forwards. So I still had this material in my head.
It’s been amazing because there are roots over there and shoots over here, so it is keeping it very consistent and doing it all at the same time. We are sharing a lot between the worlds.
Despite all of this, Rowling still has no plans to write an eighth novel or to create a Potter musical.
I kept being asked whether I would make a musical, and I don’t like musicals. Theatre, on the other hand, I love. I find it a seductive world – there is nothing like seeing an actor perform live. But I had never had anyone approach me or propose anything that excited me like this.
I think that, as a theatrical experience, as a play, it will be unlike anything people have seen before. And once people have had this theatrical experience, they will understand why this was the perfect medium for the story.
Rowling, Thorne, and Tiffany began discussing ideas for the play more than two years ago. They quickly realized that the story they were planning was simply too big to fit into one evening, so the decision was made to split it into two parts. As Tiffany explains,
Where film can eat up story, theatre needs space and breath. Once we thought of doing it in two parts, it felt naughty to begin with, but we felt we didn’t want to short change the story. We were very nervous up until the moment when the audience started to buy tickets, and the response was overwhelmingly fantastic because the fear was that people would think we were just exploiting this. But it wasn’t that in any way, shape or form.
Tiffany has now been working on the production for the past two years alongside a trusted team of collaborators. For Rowling, popping in and out of the process has been a somewhat educational experience.
It is a totally new language to me. So watching Jack and what he can do on the page and his understanding on what will then translate on to [sic] stage has been such a revelation to me. I know novels, and I know movies, but this is a different world entirely. Jack has access to a paintbox that I don’t have because I don’t understand the medium.
Tiffany wants to assure fans that the experience will be as purely theatrical as possible. He says,
Not a bombastic spectacle that makes people sit back. It’s hopefully something that pulls you in. It is absurdly ambitious theatrically, but it’s also about the audience and the imagination, which is exactly what a novelist does as well.
As nearly two months of previews begin, leading up to the official opening on July 30, all three of them hope that the audience will help to keep the show’s surprises secret. Rowling concludes,
I’ve been through this many times. And I hope we get there without any major spoilers, purely because people will have an amazing experience if they don’t know what’s coming.
Generally speaking, ‘Harry Potter’ fans are a community; they have each other’s backs, and they want to have that mystery and the sense of surprise. So we’re hopeful. But it won’t be the absolute end of the world. We’re not going to be throwing tantrums about it, but we hope for the audience’s sake that we can get there.
The full interview is available to read here. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child begins previews this Tuesday, June 7, at the Palace Theatre, London W1.
Throughout the run, 40 lower-cost tickets for each of the following week’s performances will be released every Friday at 1 p.m. BST at harrypottertheplay.com.
Have you gotten tickets to see it yet? Has this interview made you more excited? Let us know your thoughts!