Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: what can we expect from JK Rowling's new play?

J K Rowling announced on Twitter this morning that she will co-write a new Harry Potter stage play. 

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In thrilling news for Muggles and wizards alike, J K Rowling this morning announced on Twitter that she is working on a new element to the Harry Potter series.

Rowling first announced the play in December 2013, where she gave more details about the plot of the project. A statement at the time explained, 

What was it like to be the boy in the cupboard under the stairs? This brand new play, which will be developed for the UK theatre, will explore the previously untold story of Harry's early years as an orphan and outcast. Featuring some of our favourite characters from the Harry Potter books, this new work will offer a unique insight into the heart and mind of the now legendary young wizard. A seemingly ordinary boy, but one for whom Destiny has plans...

However, Rowling today announced that 2016's play is not a prequel”, which could mean this plan has been axed.

The Harry Potter books begin with Harry's birth, so a stage show detailing his childhood would not technically be a prequel. It does perhaps seems unlikely that Rowling would be so quick to reject that label while writing a story featuring some of our favourite characters set before the majority of the series' action takes place. 

It also seems unlikely that Rowling would write a story called Harry Potter and the Cursed Child if the Cursed Child is Harry himself. Aside from the fact that it makes little lexical sense (Harry Potter and Harry Potter?), the trend throughout the rest of the books saw each title would refer to something previously not mentioned in the series: to find out what the Philospher's Stone, Chamber of Secrets, Prisoner of Azkaban, Goblet of Fire, Order of the Pheonix, Half-Blood Prince, and Deathly Hallows actually are, you have to read the book in question. Even if this book does feature Harry as a child, we can be fairly certain that the Cursed Child is not him.

One fan theory looks towards the infamous epilogue to the series. Rowling clearly emphasised that Harry Potter and the Philospher's Stone was released 18 years ago today, and that the new play will be released next year: 19 years later. “19 Years Later” is also the name of the final Harry Potter chapter - the epilogue where we see Harry, Ron and Hermione's own children heading to Hogwarts, causing some fans to think the new play will start where the books left off. It's a stretch (this play will be performed 19 years after the first book was released, but only 18 years after the climatic defeat of Voldemort in Deathly Hallows) but it is possible.

The new play will see Rowling collaborate with writer Jack Thorne. Thorne has a history of writing sensitively about teenagers and young adults in difficult or lonely situations, in Skins, This is England '88, and, most recently, Glue. He told the Telegraph last year: “I tended to be the nerdy kid stood at the back, watching other people having fun – I wasn’t always necessarily a big part of the fun myself. But there’s a lot that I hope comes from the feelings I had then, or things that I recognised in other people. You just plug into what that felt like.”

He acknowledged that “loneliness and isolation” are themes he returns to again and again: “There tends to be a weird lonely boy, or girl, at the centre of the story somewhere. Whether this new play focuses on Harry's childhood or not, it seems likely that it will stay true to the spirit of the original series in its sympathetic, nuanced treatment of young witches and wizards, regardless of whether they eventually grow up to be good or evil.

Rowling will also work with producer Sonia Friedman, saying that in 2013 her vision had the sensitivity, intensity and intimacy I thought appropriate for bringing Harry's story to the stage”. Even if this project will no longer focus on Harry's childhood, it seems likely from Rowling's choice of collaborators and title that it will continue to explore ordinary children dealing with extraordinary circumstances.

According to a press relase on Sonia Freidman's website, the play will feature music by Imogen Heap. More details will be announced in late July, and tickets will go on sale this autumn.

Anna Leszkiewicz is culture editor of the New Statesman.