West End: Harry Potter Without Magic?

On December 20th, J.K. Rowling confirmed on her Facebook page a rumor that had been making the rounds online the previous day: that she would be producing a play for the West End (London’s “Broadway”) about Harry Potter. Many were very surprised and excited to hear this news, but for me, I was confused more than I was excited at first.

Here’s what Rowling’s Facebook page had to say on the matter:

J.K. Rowling is pleased to announce that she is collaborating with the award-winning theatre producers Sonia Friedman and Colin Callender on a new stage play to be based on the Harry Potter stories.

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…

J.K. Rowling will also be a co-producer on the project, but whilst she will collaborate with a writer on the new play, she will not write the script herself.

J.K. Rowling said:

“Over the years I have received countless approaches about turning Harry Potter into a theatrical production, but Sonia and Colin’s vision was the only one that really made sense to me, and which had the sensitivity, intensity and intimacy I thought appropriate for bringing Harry’s story to the stage. After a year in gestation it is exciting to see this project moving on to the next phase. I’d like to thank Warner Bros. for their continuing support in this project.”

Writers and directors are now being considered, and the project will move into development in 2014.

The notion of a play about Harry Potter has always been a tricky one, because the Harry Potter story is about a boy who discovers that he is a wizard. It is a story rooted in magic, and that’s not something that is easily translated to the stage. You need movie special effects to make magic “happen”. Yes, there are magnificent characters, and that’s why we love the series so much, but Harry Potter without magic? Suddenly, the story has lost much of its appeal.

Furthermore, the characters that we love so much? They were all introduced after (or when—in the case of Hagrid) Harry found out that he is a wizard, not before. She’s not even truly writing this backstory. She is merely producing the play. Honestly, what is Jo thinking? No magic. Just the Dursleys—among our least favorite characters.

But wait a moment. No magic? That’s not entirely true. From time to time, Harry did show evidence of magic. Growing back his hair after Petunia cut it. Finding himself on the roof while being chased by bullies. Perhaps there are other moments when magic saves him from ridicule or harm during his childhood. It’s certainly a relatable story—more relatable than being a boy wizard and going to a wizard school—facing ridicule and bullying and being saved from it somehow.

In the end, I’m not entirely sure that there’s really enough material there to fill an entire play. What do you think? Will it be a good play? Are you looking forward to it? Share your thoughts in the comments.