Things took a dark turn Thursday night in the West End, as Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Part 2 put aside the whizz-bang effects of Tuesday night’s first chapter, preferring instead to torture and terrorize its cast of characters as it built to its climax. It was classic Potter M.O., really: Rowling rarely held back when it came to taking each book down a darker path than the last, teaching her characters harsh lessons about a cruel world. And while that translated into fewer ‘wow’ moments of magical special effects in the John Tiffany-directed play, it also offered audience members a much deeper emotional connection, and even in the sometimes ragged first preview, they responded in kind.

The darkness in the text felt more like the Jack Thorne we know from This is England and The Fades, making his interest in the project clearer. In contrast to Part 1, the emphasis here was more firmly on the adult cast, as Harry struggled to relate to his son Albus. After a seven-book series about a boy trying to cope without his parents, the overriding message of Cursed Child—which starts 19 years after the last book—seemed to be that having your parents around doesn’t necessarily make growing up any easier. Especially not when you’re living in the shadow of The Boy Who Lived. Played touchingly by Sam Clemmett and Jamie Parker, there were plenty of tears as the curtain fell.

It’s clear the cast and creative team will take much from these first two public airings. In particular, it seemed as though they may have underestimated the fan response to the story’s revelations.

There may have been a few more little niggles to iron out than in Part 1, and the chapter tonight started slow, with an awkward Death Eater dance that didn’t seem to play. But the more Imogen Heap’s music attached itself to J.K. Rowling’s world, the more appropriate it felt, with several key themes—mostly adapted from her past work—seating us firmly, now, in the Wizarding World. And Christine Jones’ set continued to reveal its dynamism, with a particularly neat trick that brought the stage decoration into the audience on all levels of the 1,400-seat theatre. Though there were no live owls tonight: producers announced in a statement yesterday, after an owl escaped its handlers at the preview of Part 1, that they’d dropped their use from subsequent performances. “The decision was made not to feature live owls in any aspect of the production moving forward.”

It’s clear the cast and creative team will take much from these first two public airings. In particular, it seemed as though they may have underestimated the fan response to the story’s revelations. The gasps and spontaneous rounds of applause continued tonight, as relationships were revealed and old friends returned, and the cast had to think fast to perform around them. It’ll be interesting to see how that works once the play opens, because with the script already hitting bestseller lists ahead of its July 31 release, it’s likely the Potter die-hards booked into the first nights of the play’s run proper may struggle to resist reading it before they see it.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

A shriek pierced the theatre before curtain-up on Act II when eagle-eyed fans spotted Rowling taking a seat in one of the Palace Theatre’s boxes. She gave a sheepish wave and then hid behind a curtain; presumably she’d been there, incognito, since the start of Part 1. When it came time for the curtain calls, the cast got three, but there was no appearance from the play’s creative team. Rowling remained in her box seat and cheered on her actors.

And with that, mischief was managed, and the audience filed out to return to their homes/hotels/schools of Witchcraft and Wizardry, with many overheard making plans to come again. If they can get tickets, that is.