Harry Potter mania first gripped the world in 1997, when the first book in the popular franchise by J.K. Rowling was released in the UK. Since then the story of the boy wizard has spawned 7 best-selling novels, a successful film franchise, a Universal Studio theme park and become a worldwide phenomenon. Now Harry Potter comes to the theatre courtesy of Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Potter Experience. Direct from the West End, the show was conceived by Daniel Clarkson and Jeff Turner and covers all seven Harry Potter books in one hilarious seventy minute parody.
In the spirit of honesty I’m going to risk potentially alienating a chunk of readers and admit that I have never read the Harry Potter books. I have seen the first film (mostly to silence all the people insisting I ‘had to see it!’) but otherwise remain Harry Potter ignorant. I have nothing against the boy wizard and his misadventures but the stories never appealed to me enough to read all seven books. Therefore I worried I would go into Potted Potter at a disadvantage despite Dan and Jeff assuring me that even a Potter newbie could enjoy their production. These concerns were not assuaged as I walked into a theatre filled with people dressed in Hogwarts scarves talking about muggles, Quidditch and other terms that sounded Greek to me.
Thankfully where Potted Potter truly shines is that it does work on a universal level. The show is witty, fast-paced and engaging, and you don’t have to be a Harry Potter fan to enjoy it. In fact, in many ways I think I may have enjoyed it more as a newbie to the world of Hogwarts because I learned as I laughed. While the story is a parody, Dan and Jeff do a fine job of telling explaining all seven books in a succinct manner, something which no Potterite has ever been able to do for me before.
The laughs are plentifully, with jokes ranging from in your face and over the top to subtle and dry, and with the comedy taking on a very Python-esque feel. The physical humour is also worthy of praise, as both men exhibit an astonishing amount of energy as they whiz around the stage covering all seven books and over three hundred characters. Jeff plays Harry while Dan plays everyone else, and this division (or lack thereof) of roles works very well. Jeff bears an uncanny resemblance to Daniel Radcliffe and exudes a certain boyish charm that works both when he’s playing ‘Harry’ and when he’s arguing (as himself) with Dan over the importance of being faithful to the material. Dan is equally impressive as ‘everyone else’, transitioning at rapid fire pace between Hermione and Ron, or Dumbledore and Snape. He even manages to inject a bit of romance into the tale as he re-enacts the love scene between Ron and Hermione from the final book, proving that Potted Potter can be romantic and funny.
The highlight of the show is watching these guys engage an entire audience in a rousing live game of Quidditch. Toronto audiences are known for their reserved nature, yet Dan and Jeff managed to get everyone not only participating, but actively and enthusiastically engaged. Two audience members are chosen as “seekers” and join the duo on stage, while the rest of the patrons are divided into two houses and given the chance to battle for victory. In a turn of events that left me laughing out loud, Jeff emerges as the Golden Snitch, complete with ridiculous outfit and sheepish grin. It was at this moment that the genius behind Potted Potter declared itself. With Jeff as the Snitch and Dan leading the “seekers”, the duo have the opportunity to improvise with the audience members who are playing an active role in the game. Their improvisational abilities enhance the already stellar writing, and watching them “play” with the audience was a delight.
Whether you love Harry Potter or (like me) spend your days at the office water cooler going “Harry who?”, there is fun to be had at Potted Potter. Check your pre-conceived notions at the door, grab a butterbeer and prepare to knock around a quaffle – you won’t be disappointed.