Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Potter Experience
The show's premise is to condense all seven Harry Potter novels into a seventy-minute performance, but its origins are more humble. Potted Potter was originally commissioned as a five-minute street show by creators Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner. It was performed for fans awaiting the midnight release of the sixth book in the series, "Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince," in 2005. Its success led to the creation of the full-length Potted Potter experience in 2006, in partnership with producer James Seabright and director Dominic Knutton. Current director Richard Hurst took over when the show began touring the United Kingdom in 2007. In 2012, the show was nominated for the Best Entertainment and Family Olivier Award and began touring internationally. After a North American debut in Toronto, Potted Potter was first performed in the United States at New York City's Little Shubert Theatre (now called Stage 42) and has toured steadily ever since.
As Potted Potter nears its 20th birthday, it has clearly found an audience. This is hardly surprising, given the enormous popularity of the source material. Nevertheless, it is a show best entered with accurate expectations. The story revolves around Potter-enthusiast James recreating the series with help from his uninitiated friend Joe. As James explains, trying to represent even the most central characters in the seven-book series with a cast of two is an impossible task. Fortunately, the show does not attempt to do justice to the series. In fact, a reasonable hypothesis would be that the additions made when the show expanded from five to seventy minutes were primarily aimed at humor rather than storytelling. Audiences eager to see the series recreated at breakneck speed will be disappointed by how little is covered.
Despite (or perhaps because of) the limited storyline, Potted Potter successfully garners plentiful laughter from the audience. The show bills itself as a parody, and that it certainly is. The experience is more akin to watching a series of Potter-themed sketch comedy scenes than to viewing a cohesive story. Highlights include the running gag that Joe has used all the money for cast and set to buy the dragon for book four, quick costume change antics as they attempt to play an ever rotating parade of characters, Dobby the House Elf's appearance, and a dance-off between Harry and Voldemort to the tune of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive."
It goes without saying that Harry Potter fans are Potted Potter's target audience. However, the show pokes fun at the dramatic nature of the story in such a way that audience members who are less familiar with the series will enjoy the performance, provided they have spent time listening to a friend or family member wax poetic on the subject. Children will particularly enjoy the audience participation involved during a rousing game of Quidditch. The only downfall for the uninitiated is a handful of major spoilers that those midway through the books or films might not appreciate.
Actors Joseph Maudsley and James Percy are a charming duo with strong comedic chops. At times, the banter between them is so natural that it is hard to tell whether the antics are scripted or improvised. Percy brings nerdy sincerity to his depiction of a massive Potterhead, while Maudsley portrays the off-kilter best friend with enthusiasm and mischievousness worthy of Fred and George Weasley (the duo that serves as the Potter series' comic relief). Both actors surprise with excellent singing voices during the only true musical number. The friendship between the two men is believable despite its silliness, and the true story arc of the show comes from the highs and lows in their relationship.
Richard Hurst has plenty of experience with highly comedic direction (Cabaret Whore Encore!, Silly Billy Bum Breath) and keeps things moving swiftly along within the allotted seventy minutes. The British sensibility and farcical humor of his experience come through in Potted Potter. The condensed nature of the show gives a nod to Hurst's experience as a TV writer ("Miranda", "Secret Diary of a Call Girl").
The set is a running gag throughout the show. Within the story, Joe got set pieces here and there for free because he was saving all the allotted funds for another purpose, much to James' dismay. This created an interesting job for designer Simon Scullion, who carefully assembled an array of small set pieces to serve as Joe's slapdash set. These chosen sets are purposely ineffective. For example, a set piece showing a beach and palm trees serves as the Forbidden Forest. Scullion has done well with his task, but it is hard not to hope at least one Hogwarts-worthy set is on the way. Spoiler: It is not. Tim Mascall's lighting design effectively communicates the role of the audience at different momentsimportant in a show with audience participationand generally serves the raucous performance well. The score by Phil Innes is atmospheric and enjoyable.
Does Potted Potter meet the challenge of condensing all seven Harry Potter books into one performance? Not even close. Does the show provide a wealth of laughs from a talented acting duo? Certainly. Potter fans and their loved ones will enjoy a night of hilarity at this family-friendly parody. As their ads say, "Perfect for those between ages 6 and Dumbledore, who is very old indeed."
Potted Potter, through March 10, 2019, at Pantages Theatre, 710 Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis MN. Tickets: $39.99 - $99.99. Student and educator rush tickets are available (two per valid ID) two hours before each performance, $25.00, cash only. For tickets call 800-982-2787 or visit hennepintheatretrust.org. For more information on the tour, visit pottedpotter.com.
Writer and creator: Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner