Left – Daniel Clarkson and Scott Hoatson
Despite its first-flush era of popularity having seemingly peaked and drawn to a close with the final Harry Potter film released in 2011, J.K. Rowling’s “Wizarding World” transmedia franchise persists in its historic impact. Of course this multi-billion-pound empire, which broke publishing and box office records with its phenomenally popular novels and near-concurrent series of film adaptations, never really went away. The opening of theme parks, touring exhibitions, and the Pottermore website amongst other attractions, have been stoking the still brightly glowing embers of Potter fandom in the years since the main narrative concluded. Rowling has since turned her hand to collaborating on a successful but controversial stageplay sequel/coda Harry Potter and The Cursed Child, in addition to solo-screenwriting the new Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them film series, as a prequel of sorts for her wider franchise.
For those with their ear to the popcultural ground, this year heralds something of a modest resurgence for Rowling’s creations. It has seen multiple concurrent international productions of The Cursed Child announced to much fanfare, and the second Fantastic Beasts film is to be released later this year. Also, in a more prosaic indication of any franchise’s robustness, a relaunched product line of LEGO sets based on the whole Wizarding World property has hit the toy aisles. If ever you want to take the pulse of what the entertainment industry is betting all its chips on in attempting to appeal simultaneously to child and adult geek demographics, LEGO is where to look, believe you me.
So is it therefore any wonder that an unauthorised comedy stage show based on Harry Potter would, despite being an astonishing decade into its own run, still be going strong and touring the world in 2018?
Potted Potter promises to retell the narrative of all seven Harry Potter novels in a fleet 70 minutes, with only two actors using minimal props and costumes. The elevator pitch of this show immediately brings to mind the venerable touring comedy play The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). Or, in a personal anecdote, One Man Star Wars Trilogy, the subject of one of my earliest reviews as a theatre critic over a decade ago. Both of these productions variously mixed in elements of stand-up comedy, vocal effects, classic mime, pantomime, impressions, audience involvement and theatresports to weave comedically condensed retellings of these epic sagas, with both loving homage and gentle ribbing.
Surprisingly then, it was to my disadvantage that I was familiar with these conceptually similar shows going into Potted Potter, as it created it my own mind somewhat false expectations of a more, well… analytically funny, somewhat adult-skewing show, replete with in-jokes and commentative humour. What we got instead was something much more in the vein of a shoestring British panto, predominantly aimed at younger children and more casual fans.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s merely a question of getting in the appropriate audience for the right show.
By dint of age, I was only exposed to J.K. Rowling’s work as an adult, and largely thanks to the passionate enthusiasm of her extensive adult fanbase. As a result I do tend to forget that this progressively dark and sophisticated series of novels filled with increasingly relevant metaphors of creeping societal fascism and government corruption were, when all is said and done, intended for children. So while a whole generation of even now-adult fans have grown up with Harry, Ron and Hermione over the decade-plus release of the original books and films, Rowling’s series continues to garner new fans amongst young children to this day. It is really this youngest demographic of Potterites to which this show is chiefly tailored.
So, if you’re the sort of hardcore grown-up fan who spends hours on Pottermore memorising Sirius Black’s family tree, already learned all the names of the international wizarding schools not even mentioned in the novels, or have a tattoo of the Deathly Hallows symbol… this show possibly isn’t going to be your mug of butterbeer. If it’s any indication, Ron is reduced to a running gag about a red wig and, rather shockingly, they only mention Hermione two or three times in the whole show.
None of which is to say that Potted Potter is ill-conceived or poorly done per se. On the contrary, this high-energy and semi-interactive show had its all-ages family audience rolling in the aisles with laughter, and the success of its ten-year pedigree speaks for itself. The meat and potatoes of the humour here lies with the frustrated interplay between the two performers, with the squirrelly and pedantic Scott Hoatson as the nominal Harry Potter expert and mastermind of the show, while his jocular spendthrift co-star Daniel Clarkson is revealed to know nothing about Potter and care even less… (yet in real life is ironically the co-writer and co-creator of the show). Inhabiting these larger than life self-named characters, the performance begins.
One of the main running gags is that “Scott” has blithely entrusted “Dan” with a great deal of money to hire professional actors and pay for expensive sets and animatronic creatures. Naturally he is caught unawares that his irresponsible Jack-the-lad stage partner has blown the lot on a single effect for their retelling of book four… cue much consternation. Within the show’s narrative, the exaggeratedly threadbare and slipshod production we now see “improvised” before us is the result. A lot of the jokes are derived from the dissonance between Scott trying to represent the books earnestly with limited time and even more constrained resources, while Dan constantly hijacks the show with scene-stealing slapstick, silly voices and wholly irrelevant props.
Dan constantly reinforces that his onstage persona remains wildly ignorant about Harry Potter, which only serves to wind up the already agitated Scott all the more. This leads to an ever more frantic and petulantly competitive dynamic between these comically exaggerated man-children. For example, Dan’s Voldemort costume consists of putting on a booming deep voice and wearing a red devil-horned headband that looks like it came from a dollar store Halloween outfit – seemingly apropos of nothing beyond his character’s simplistic impression that he is required to signify “the bad guy”.
With some elements of crowd-interaction (including an attempted live Quidditch game) and what appeared to be quite a few moments of Clarkson legitimately improvising in attempts to make Hoatson “corpse” on stage, the chemistry between the two actors is definitely the production’s best selling point. It is a very lively double act which mixes up its formula with the inclusion of sight-gags, audiovisual projections, role-reversals, puppets, and even a musical number. At the very least, you can say there is never a dull moment.
A fun little show for children and the young at heart who don’t mind taking themselves, and their beloved Harry Potter franchise, too seriously.
Lunchbox Theatrical Productions presents
Potted Potter: The Unauthorised Harry Experience
by Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner
Director Richard Hurst
Venue: Everest Theatre, Seymour Centre | N/A
Dates: 19 – 23 September 2018