By Christian Holub
Updated June 08, 2016 at 12:00 PM EDT
Credit: Charlie Gray

Previews for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child — the new London play that takes up the story of the Boy Who Lived 19 years after the ending of the original series (or, technically, just after the epilogue) — begin this week. For the sequel to one of the biggest pop culture franchises of all time, details have been kept remarkably under wraps and may stay that away if early theatergoers heed J.K. Rowling’s video plea to keep the plot secrets. But here’s what we know so far (no spoilers – fans may feel free to read ahead without fear).

What is it?

Hard to believe, but Cursed Child was once even more mysterious than it is now. The initial synopsis, way back in 2013, said the play would explore “what was it like to be the boy under the stairs?” This led to some understandable confusion later on, as many fans assumed that meant Cursed Child was a prequel to the original series. But it is in fact a sequel, picking up with the Potter characters years after the defeat of Voldemort, and is divided into two parts (not unlike the Deathly Hallows film adaptation).

Who wrote it?

The play was written by Jack Thorne and directed by John Tiffany, but the two theater veterans received extensive input from Rowling. Tiffany told The New York Times that he was surprised by the freedom Rowling gave them in making a story in her sandbox: “It is one thing to let us continue the story, another to let us unravel the canon.” The play will first be shown in London’s West End, but those that can’t make it to London will be able to purchase the script as a book on July 31 (Harry’s canonical birthday).

What’s it about?

We still don’t really know! The official synopsis of Cursed Child describes the plot thusly: “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.”

The way the characters are arranged in cast portraits suggests that family will be a big theme of the work, with three families in particular at center stage: the Potters, the Granger-Weasleys, and the Malfoys. When we met Albus Severus Potter, Rose Granger-Weasley, and Scorpius Malfoy, they were being escorted on to the Hogwarts Express for the first time. The play sounds like it’ll divide its time between their adjustments to Hogwarts (here’s a first look photo of the Hogwarts set) and their relationships with their parents; Albus isn’t the only one with a family legacy, for better or worse. That line about darkness coming from unexpected places, plus the fact that plays are typically more interested in psychological drama than fantasy books might be, suggests that the main enemy here won’t be an unkillable dark wizard, but rather some uncomfortable truths about growing up. Tiffany, for one, seems convinced that he was able to secure Rowling’s participation by telling her he thought the story was about “learning to deal with death and grief” in the first place. Hmm.

Who’s in it?

Considering that Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint are not quite old enough to play middle-aged versions of themselves, Cursed Child is understandably stocked with stage actors new to the Wizarding World. Jamie Parker plays Harry, Paul Thornley plays Ron, and Noma Dumezweni plays Hermione. The casting of Dumezweni in the role originated by Watson has sparked both racist backlash and inspiring support. Rowling and Watson have both endorsed her. Most heartwarming of all, Dumezweni told The New York Times that she keeps “getting text messages from mums I know saying how huge it is for their mixed-race daughters that I am playing Hermione.”

Who is the Cursed Child?

Speaking of questions we don’t know the answers to, the question we REALLY don’t know the answer to is what, exactly, the play’s title means. Fans at this point are surely familiar with the fact that Harry Potter book titles sometimes told a lot about the goings-on within (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix​), but also sometimes just referred to the coolest-sounding thing in the story (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire). EW’s Marc Snetiker thoroughly analyzed the likelihood of the “cursed child” moniker applying to each of the three main children (plus uber-protagonist Harry), but for now, we’re still in the dark.

What are the initial reactions?

Cursed Child started previews on Tuesday night. Although most viewers have so far obeyed J.K. Rowling and kept the play’s plot secrets, they haven’t been shy about sharing general enthusiasm. Various early tweeters called part one of the two-part play “amazing,” “a great story,” and even “potentially the best thing I’ve ever seen.” On a more interesting note, Hypable editor Andrew Sims said that the full cast/character list (so far unannounced) hints at where the story goes. Hypable ended up posting some more specific details and earning Rowling’s ire, so spoilerphobes beware.

What does it look like?

Even fans who didn’t make the previews can now get a sense of what the stage set-up looks like. The production released a photo of the Hogwarts set-up, featuring the four houses’ colored banners.

On the night of the second part’s first preview, the production released an additional photo showing the grown-up Harry, Ron, and Draco.

Credit: HPPlayLDN/Twitter

And that’s about all we know for now. Stay tuned for more details as we get closer to the play’s official July 30 premiere. The script will be published in book form on July 31.

This post has been updated since its initial publication.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

  • Stage
  • John Tiffany