Harry Potter and the Cursed Child thrills and shocks fans
Whoops and gasps as first preview of JK Rowling's stage play gets an 'ecstatic' response from audience
The audience response for the first preview of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has been "ecstatic", but fans have been warned not to spoil it for others.
The two-part sequel, written by Jack Thorne and based on a story by author JK Rowling, starts 19 years after the final book in the franchise, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It features a grown-up Harry now married to Ginny (nee Weasley), but also harks back to the wizard's early years as an orphan.
The first of two months of sold-out previews began at London's Palace Theatre last night and will continue until the official opening on 30 July.
In a video message released before the show, Rowling implored fans not to give away the fun: "Let audiences enjoy Cursed Child with all the surprises that we've built into the story."
They were also given badges asking them to "keep the secrets" as they left the theatre.
But the audience was not able to suppress their delight, reports the BBC. The play received an "ecstatic" reception, with hundreds of "spellbound" fans standing and cheering as the first part of the drama came to a close.
Although no official media reviews will be released until after the July premiere, commentators noted the enthusiastic responses.
"The audience came wanting magic and they got in spades," says the Daily Telegraph's Hannah Furness.
The simple staging was "trickery of the highest sophistication", she adds: "Objects seemed to disappear before our eyes and characters appeared as if from nowhere."
Fans tweeted that the show was "brilliant" and "spine-chilling", with one saying their only complaint was that they couldn't read it over and over again, as they do with the novels.
Has Rowling done it again, asks Furness. "The audience was in no doubt."
It was a "magical evening", agrees Claire Fitzsimons in the Daily Mirror. "Spells and hexes combined with laughs and drama mean Harry Potter and the Cursed Child will be every bit the hit everyone expects."
It might be the eighth instalment of the epic story, "but clearly audiences are far from tired of their favourite wizard", she adds. "Judging by the whooping and cheering, nobody was disappointed."
Sarah Lyall in the New York Times says it was jarring for some to see "the reanimation of characters we thought had been put to rest", but this "exciting" play thrusts audiences straight back into the story and raises "tantalising" questions.
Rowling has done an excellent job of shrouding the production in suspense, she adds.
Only the first part, which finished on "a truly shocking note of suspense", has previewed so far. Fans won't learn what happens until the first preview of the second part, on Thursday night.
Harry Potter: new book release sparks frenzy
This summer is set to be a busy one for Harry Potter fans, with two very big events lined up.
First, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a play written by JK Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, makes its West End debut on 30 July. Then the next day, its script will be published in book form by Little, Brown Book Group. (Oh, and 31 July is also the boy wizard's birthday, as any follower will know.)
As news of the new book makes headlines around the world, here's what we know so far:
Why is the book being published?
Rowling and her team received a "huge number of appeals from fans who can't be in London to see the play and who would like to read the play in book format," said David Shelley, the chief executive of Little, Brown. "We are absolutely delighted to be able to make it available for them."
What's it about?
The plot centres on Harry's struggles as a grown-up wizard, although Rowling has repeatedly said it is a stand-alone story and not a sequel.
According to the synopsis, the play is set 19 years after the original series ended, when Harry is an "overworked" Ministry of Magic employee, a husband and a father of three.
"Harry struggles to keep his past buried and move on, while his youngest son Albus must bear the weight of a family legacy that he does not want," it says. "As the past fuses with the present, father and son face an ominous truth: sometimes, darkness originates where you least expect it."
What's the reaction been so far?
Less than 24 hours after the announcement, the script had already topped the charts on both Amazon's and Waterstone's book lists.
Waterstone's chief executive James Daunt said there are "no sweeter three words to the ears of a bookseller than 'the eighth story'".
He added: "Younger booksellers now face, of course, the dubious prospect of their older colleagues rolling out war stories of Harry Potter launches for the next five months. On 31 July, we will put these into the shade."
Little, Brown have cautioned that the script is a "special rehearsal edition" of the text used during preview performances of the show ahead of its official opening. That means that after the preview period ends, fans can expect another finalised collector's edition to be released.
All this hype around the announcement should come as no surprise, however, as Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was widely anticipated by fans: when tickets for the play were released, the show sold out in just eight hours, with more than 175,000 tickets bought.
Is it really an eighth book?
Fans have been rejoicing over what they see as another book in the Harry Potter series. Rowling, however, was quick to dismiss that notion:
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child casts black Hermione
22 December 2016
The upcoming stage production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has cast a black actress to play Hermione – and it's what many fans have been waiting for.
The eagerly anticipated, two-part play, co-written by Jack Thorne and director John Tiffany, is based on an original JK Rowling story. It is set 19 years after the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and will focus on Harry's youngest son Albus Severus.
Producers have now announced the cast, reports the BBC and actress Noma Dumezweni, who recently stepped in at the last minute to replace Kim Cattrall in Linda at the Royal Court, will play the adult Hermione Granger.
The Swaziland-born, Dumezweni, 45, also won a best supporting actress Olivier award in 2005 for her role in A Raisin in the Sun.
She will be joined by Jamie Parker, who is currently starring in the West End show Guys and Dolls, as an adult Harry. London Road star Paul Thornley completes the trio as Ron Weasley.
But it's the news of Noma's role that has got people talking, and it seems that JK Rowling and fans are pleased.
When the casting was announced, JK Rowling responded to fans' questions of how she felt about "black Hermione" with this tweet: "Canon: brown eyes, frizzy hair and very clever. White skin was never specified. Rowling loves black Hermione."
The casting of a black actress as Hermione was not entirely unexpected for some readers though, says Sarah Begley in Time. She notes that, for years, a community of readers has wondered whether Hermione Granger was indeed written as a black or mixed-race character all along.
Begley points to blogs such as Black Girl Dangerous, which suggest that women of colour identify with Hermione, and notes that fans have long discussed her race on social media. Then, in February, a Buzzfeed post on fan art depicted Hermione as black.
Some commentators, such as Stephen Bush at the New Statesman, believed Hermione was black since first reading the books. She wows her fellow pupils at the Yule Ball in Goblet of Fire by straightening her hair, says Bush, "which was, almost without exception, how in my part of East London, everyone's older sister prepared for a night out".
Bush adds that he was shocked when white actress Emma Watson was cast in the role, and asked, "How could Hermione be white?"
On Vulture Ira Madison III describes the casting as "exciting" and says it is an important expansion of the Potter universe. Madison says that even if Rowling never specified Hermione as black, and didn't object to the casting of Emma Watson, it is easy to understand why black readers, "searching for representation in the mostly white universe of young-adult fiction, imagine the character to be like themselves".
But let's not get carried away, says Kayleigh Anne in The Independent. Rowling's tweets about Hermione's race "were an afterthought", says Anne. "But it's OK," she adds, acknowledging Rowling for "helping to add diversity to the franchise".