We do like to keep up with all things Harry Potter (HP) and here we are with the latest update about the HP spin-off sequel which was revealed July 4th.

First: On March 30th 2017, Rakie Ayola (Talawa Theatre Co.’s King Lear, 2016, ITV’s No Offence, 2017) and Helen Aluko (web series Life Of Hers, 2014, short film God Will Fall, 2014) were announced amongst the replacement cast for West End hit Harry Potter And The Cursed Child (HPCC), written by Jack Thorne (Woyceck, 2017) and directed by John Tiffany, based on an original story by Thorne, Tiffany and J. K. Rowling. The two actresses were to replace the award-winning Noma Dumezweni as the adult Hermione Granger and Cherelle Skeete as her daughter Rose Granger-Weasley, respectively.

It seems that the producers are happy to stick with a ‘black Hermione’ for the time being. If you recall, Dumezweni had to endure a massive backlash when she was cast in 2015, replacing white actress Emma Watson, who was aged into adulthood almost 20 years in the 8th and final film’s epilogue. In response to the furore, HP creator J. K. Rowling tweeted, “Canon: brown eyes, frizzy hair and very clever. White skin was never specified. Rowling loves black Hermione…”  (December 2015), and was re-tweeted 76,548 times/ ‘liked’ 103,124 times. Still, Rowling couldn’t have been completely blameless in the fans’ apparent misconception, since she must have approved the book illustrations and the movie castings…

Still, JK’s clear cut endorsement must have made Dumezweni’s acceptance a little smoother, as we reported in June 2016 that the production was delighting and enchanting theatre goers and critics alike in the previews.

By the time Madame TBB and I saw the last of the preview shows, just before the gala opening night of 30th July, The Cambridge Theatre was already booking into October 2017! Then, the script book was released on July 31st and the presses were melted into slag with over 100,000 advanced book orders and a subsequent estimated 450m books sold globally.

We weren’t exactly bowled over by the production, to be honest, feeling that there were plot holes, plot devices which were a stretch, issues with the dialogue and many of the lead performances. HPCC  really didn’t need to be stretched across two full-length plays, much like the final HP book didn’t need to be 2 movies. Still, Dumezweni definitely produced one of the better turns, and we were more than happy that she scooped the Supporting Actress Olivier and WhatsOntage awards – hers was one of 9 Olivier wins from 11 nominations! The new 2017 cast took to the stage on 24th May, and the show is now booking until 29th April 2018. The Broadway show is due to open 7 days prior to that on 22nd April 2018.

As if the stage show wasn’t making enough money, Warner Bros. decided to make a live action version of, literally, a footnote in the HP canon, which inspired a 128-page novella – Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them (FTBAWTFT, 2001).   We were looking forward to this, as it was introducing new characters, most of which had not been  seen in the 8 HP movies! We were also hoping that the new-found cultural realness of HPCC would seep into the new movie, and, initially, we were hopeful! Carmen Ejogo (Selma, 2013) won a speaking role as Seraphina Picquery, President of the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA). In addition to Zoe Kravitz as Leta Lestrange, British Blacklisters Christian Dixon (Cucumber, 2015), Wunmi Mosaku (Fearless, 2017, Guerilla, 2017, Damilola: Our Loved Boy, 2016), Dominique Tipper (The Girl With All The Gifts, 2016, The Expanse, 2015, Montana, 2014, Vampire Academy, 2014, Fast Girls, 2012, Adulthood, 2008), Arinzé Kene (Crazyhead, 2016, Youngers, 2013-14, Eastenders, 2010-11) and Aretha Ayeh (Cucumber, 2015) were cast.

Magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) helps to unveil and capture the infamous dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), whilst his magical pet beasties wreak hilarious havoc and must be protected. Alas, apart from Dixon’s Momolu Wotorson and Mosaku’s Beryl, the others were credited but unnamed as Auror 1 (Tipper), Auror 6  (Kene)and Blind Pig speakeasy singer (Ayeh). At 2½ hours long, FBAWTFT was another disappointment (story, performances, dialogue…), but it still took $814m at the box office off a $180m budget.

With numbers like that, the first adventure of Newt Scamander was the studio’s best performer of 2016, and the planned quintilogy was a shoe-in. Remember, the first film was based on a novella and was Rowling’s first attempt at writing a screenplay. It had no sequels (and, yes, we thought it was only going to be a trilogy too! but, no -5!) And so a few days ago, on July 3rd, principal photography began on the as-yet untitled sequel, Rowling’s second ever script, at Warner Bros, Studios Leavesden, Hertfordshire.

There have been promises of more new faces joining some of those we have already met. This time, still set in 1927 only a few months after the end of the first film, Scamander teams up with a young Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) to… thwart Dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Depp). Dumbledore and Grindelwald have a complex history which, according to Pottermore, began as childhood friends. They become enemies after a duel which led to the death of Dumbledore’s younger sister, Ariana. The action will move from New York to London and on to Paris, and promises “some surprising nods to the Harry Potter stories that will delight fans of the books and film series… As he promised he would, Grindelwald has made a dramatic escape and has been gathering more followers to his cause — elevating wizards above all non-magical beings. The only one who might be able to stop him is the wizard he once called his dearest friend, Albus Dumbledore. But Dumbledore will need help from the wizard who had thwarted Grindelwald once before, his former student Newt Scamander. The adventure reunites Newt with Tina (Katherine Waterston), Queenie (Alison Sudol) and Jacob (Dan Fogler), but his mission will also test their loyalties as they face new perils in an increasingly dangerous and divided wizarding world.”

Character reprisals also include Zoe Kravitz as Leta Lestrange, adding ti her impressive number of small roles in big movies. Previously only briefly glimpsed in a moving photo as a woman from Newt’s past, her role may well be bigger this time around. Joining them is French-African William Nadylam as wizard Yusuf Kama, amongst others. Interestingly, there is a character called Abernathy (Kevin Guthrie, a white actor), the so-called “boss” of MACUSA, but there is no word on what has happened to Ejogo’s Piquery, President of MACUSA!!

So, we are even more confused about Rowling’s thought processes in supporting Dumezweni’s casting for the stage show, since such inclusive, broad-minded thinking doesn’t seem to translate to the movies of her books or her screenplays. Remember that a writer can create anyone she likes! As it stands, she perhaps cannily, got an  Olivier award-winning (2006, A Raisin In The Sun), multiple award-nominated actress attached to her stage show in Dumezweni!

Well, we’ll keep you posted, but again, we may well be buying our 1000th cinema ticket to Black Panther, come its November 16, 2018 release.

David Yates is slated to direct all 5 movies (HP 5 – Order Of The Phoenix, 2007, 6 – The Half Blood Prince, 2009, and Deathly Hallows 7, 2010, and 8, 2011). David Heyman, Rowling, Steve Kloves and Lionel Wigram are producers, with Tim Lewis, Neil Blair, Rick Senat and Danny Cohen exec producing.