Hearing the phrase "Harry Potter prequel," I automatically assume it’s either a story about Harry Potter’s parents and the Marauders, or it goes further back and tells the story of Dumbledore during any of that man’s fascinating past. Alas, neither is the case for the play J.K. Rowling is working on, however that’s not such a bad thing as this prequel stage project she has in the works is more directly tied to Harry Potter.
EW says Rowling is working on a play that will tell the story of boy wizard Harry Potter during his younger years, before Hagrid showed up and told him he was a wizards. According to the statement Rowling made, the play will "explore the previously untold story of Harry’s early years as an orphan and an outcast." She’s co-producing the show alongside Sonia Friedman and Colin Callendar. Rowling’s not actually penning the script, but she will collaborate with the writer on it. That writer and the director have not been selected yet.
Now for the speculation... If it’s about Harry and his pre-Hogwarts years, before he learned that he was a wizard, does that mean there’s no magic involved? EW’s story doesn’t specify, however I’m going to assume otherwise and not rule out the possibility of an occasional magical outburst, at the very least. From what we know of Harry’s youth, strange, seemingly inexplicable things did happen to him when he was little. For example, his Aunt Petunia tried to cut his hair and it all grew back overnight. When she tried to force him to wear an ugly sweater, the thing shrunk until it was way too small to wear. And then there was the time Dudley and his gang were chasing Harry and he somehow ended up on a chimney. Harry may not have known he was a wizard until Hagrid told him, but magic has always been a part of his life.
So we know magic had a presence in Harry’s life, and in Rowling’s mind, there may very well have been more instances of spontaneous magic. But I’m curious to know how she’s planning on thickening the plot and why she’s chosen the stage as the place to tell this story. Will the Dursley's be the focus? Will Arabella Figg play a part? She's the woman who occasionally looked after Harry when the Dursleys went away and didn't want to take him. We learned later that she has ties to the magical community, so there could be a place for her in this story.
Harry Potter seems to be reemerging bit by bit of late. The seventh and final book in the Harry Potter series released in 2007. Since then Rowling has mostly moved on to other projects. though she did release the fairytale spinoff book The Tales of Beedle the Bard for charity. Up until this fall, there hasn’t been much going on on the Potter front in terms of new stories, beyond the movies, which have also wrapped up. And then this past fall it was announced that there was a spinoff film in the works based on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them, one of the other Potter bonus books Rowling published for charity. There's also been talk of other potential spinoffs Warner Bros. might have in mind.
As a Potter fanatic, I can hardly complain when hearing that Rowling is delving back into that story from any angle. As I said after the Fantastic Beasts news broke, I’m open any opportunity to return to the rich magical world Rowling has created. In the case of this stage project, it sounds like she’s looking to flesh out Harry’s history in the years leading up to his arrival at Hogwarts. I can’t imagine it’ll be an entirely happy story, given that Harry spent that early decade of his life being mistreated, neglected and bullied, but one look at the scar on his forehead and the audience will be reminded of all that awaits for this character.
This news leaves us with plenty of questions, like where the play will open (Update: Rowling's site says UK Theater) and what audience Rowling has in mind. Tonally, I’d assume they’re aiming for something along the lines of the first book, which was pretty kid-friendly, unlike the last book. Who will play the boy wizard and will any of the film’s casts make a cameo? And then of course, there’s the most important question for many of us: Where/When/How can I buy a ticket?