Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: is it really possible for fans to avoid spoilers?

With theatre-goers waiting up to a year to see JK Rowling's Harry Potter stage play, will social media #KeepTheSecrets, asks Susanna Lazarus

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Spoilers. They’re a universal internet headache. To spoil or not to spoil? To look at social media or to avoid it like the plague in the anxious hope that you might – just might – be able to avoid that clonking Game of Thrones plot twist everyone’s talking about.

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As internet journalists, spoilers form an almost daily conversation in our office. Is this tweet too ‘spoilery’? Should this headline contain that person who does that thing? Six months on from that Star Wars death, is it OK to talk about it? Or will the internet shout back at you for ruining their favourite show/film/book?

Here at RadioTimes.com, we tend to err on the side of caution – if we’re about to spoil, we’ll give you ample notice so you can click out in a blind panic – but social media is a different beast. Scroll through your Twitter feed and you’ll find yourself confronted by 140-character plot bombshells. By the time you’ve realised what’s happening, it’s already too late. 

And today, in particular, I am terrified of Twitter. Why? Because I’m a Harry Potter mega-fan. I adore the books and the films. I even studied it at university (Durham students have ALL the fun) and this morning the internet has been rife with talk of JK Rowling’s stage sequel Cursed Child.

The follow-up to the seven books and eight films staged its first preview last night at London’s Palace Theatre as the very first lucky fans discovered what Harry, Ron, Hermione and their children were up to 19 years on from the events of the Deathly Hallows.

Thanks to Rowling, we know to expect major twists in her new tale. But in a bid to keep all spoilers under wraps, the author has launched a campaign: #keepthesecrets.

“I’m asking you one more time to keep the secrets and let audiences enjoy Cursed Child with all the surprises that we’ve built into the story,” she implored fans ahead of the first show. 

Now, first I’ve got to point out the respect I have for the Harry Potter fanbase. They understand as well as anyone the power of storytelling and the importance of preserving and harnessing the tales that authors like Rowling have to tell. I know they’ll #keepthesecrets.

But the cultural landscape we live in is unrecognisable from the days when Rowling was first publishing her Harry Potter books. I am lucky enough to be of the generation that devoured her pages in the days after their publication and, besides my best friend telling me Sirius Black was Harry’s… nope, not going to spoil that for you… us kids didn’t have to worry about spoilers.

Nowadays it’s different. The internet is large and chatty and full of pitfalls, and you can guarantee that at some point in the next six months I’m going to scroll past a headline, click-baity tweet or link that somehow gives the game away.

You see, that’s the other problem. Despite setting an alarm and sitting with my mouse poised on the Cursed Child page the day tickets went on sale, I couldn’t get hold of any before November – and I’m one of the lucky ones.

At least I have and can afford tickets. At least I live in London and not deepest, darkest Peru. At least I have access to the next chapter of Rowling’s story, even if it does mean waiting half a year to see it.

For those who don’t, there’s the option of buying the full script, published on 31st July – the day after press night. But for fans waiting a month, six months, or even a year to see the play on stage, is it realistic to think we can avoid spoilers?

This situation is unprecedented. Never has a new piece of theatre captured fan interest in this way, and the stage is far more exclusive than books, film or TV.

UK-based Thrones fans may spend Mondays with their fingers stuck in their ears, but at least they only have to wait a working day to watch the episode America is currently freaking out over.

Most Star Wars fans had access to the The Force Awakens at the same time as spoiler-happy tweeters, and even British Grey’s Anatomy fans only had to wait a couple of months to witness that… nope, not spoiling that one for you either.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that there are two parts to the Cursed Child production, with performances only held from Wednesday to Sunday. So on any given week, only 5,600 people will get to see parts 1 and 2.

That’s just over 291,000 people a year, a number dwarfed by the 15 million who bought the Deathly Hallows book in the 24 hours following its 2007 publication, or the £900 million the final film took at the global box office in 2011.

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Harry Potter fans may be desperate to see Cursed Child as soon as possible – Twitter tells us as much – but the reality is most will have to wait. And so the question remains: despite their best intentions, is it really possible to #avoidthesecrets?