In 2005, Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner were asked to recap a five-minute street performance recapping the first five Harry Potter books for individuals waiting in line for the midnight release of J.K. Rowling’s sixth installment in the series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Twelve years, three international tours, and three runs in Chicago later, Potted Potter has expanded to a 70-minute production that details not five, but all seven books, and continues to bring the crowd to its feet.
Broadway in Chicago presents POTTED POTTER: THE UNAUTHORIZED HARRY POTTER EXPERIENCE, A PARODY BY DAN AND JEFF
Directed by Richard Hurst and written and performed by Clarkson and Turner (Dan and Jeff), the premise is simple: the parody sets out to recap all seven Harry Potter books in seventy minutes. Clarkson begins by introducing Turner as the preeminent Harry Potter scholar, assuring the audience that they are in good hands as they embark on this bold journey. However, as the introduction continues, it quickly becomes clear that nothing quite went as planned.
While Turner was meant to spend the months leading to the performance intensely studying the books, Clarkson was in charge of finding appropriate set pieces, props, and talented actors to fill the necessary roles. When Turner admits that he spent the entire budget on one prop (the dragon in book four, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire!), the duo realize that it is up to the two of them to perform the seven-book journey for the young-boy Wizard. Turner will play Harry Potter, and Clarkson is tasked with playing every other character is the series. The result is a 70-minute production organized by each book in order, packed with over-the-top hysterical comedy, and a pair of actors who certainly know how to win over a crowd of Harry Potter fans of all ages.
Clarkson and Turner have crafted a hilarious script that keeps the audience engaged and laughing from start to finish. The duo clearly knows the material, and manages to cover the major milestones in each book from Harry defeating Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, to the moment that Ron and Hermione finally admit their feelings for each other in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
As with any parody, Clarkson and Turner poke fun at various details throughout, and that which is most remarkable is that they clearly update the material constantly. One such example is in the Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban section. Clarkson reveals a large white screen with a prepared presentation on the characters and various relationships that form in that installement – from the realization that the Dementors are evil, to the truth about Sirius Black identity as Harry’s godfather. In order to enhance his presentation, Clarkson utilizes Pottermore – J.K. Rowling’s online database about the wizarding world. Within are character profiles, as well as countless details that never even made their way into the books, but were regardless true and informed Rowling’s creation. She released the database in 2012 – a full seven years after Potted Potter’s original conception. Clarkson and Turner are constantly updating and with every new release of information, the duo cleverly finds a way to create another comedic bit.
The premise of the show is based on the idea that Clarkson wasted the budget on one single prop, and the artistic team utilizes that information to bring the comedy into their designs.
Set Designer Simon Scullion’s stage is simple and has a “do-it-yourself” vibe, which is perfect for the story. Scullion utilizes three major pieces, including the “Forbidden Forest” – meant to be a terrifying element of Rowling’s Potter-universe, but is simply a cardboard image of a beach with a palm tree and the words “Keep Out – Forbidden Forest” painted across. On Stage Right is a coffin with the word “SPOOKY,” and in the center, a “magical wardrobe” through which one can find Narnia, which of course, is from the wrong fantasy novel.
Potted Potter would be nothing without the props, which carry a similar vibe to the set. Clarkson reveals a miniature Scooby Doo mystery van to represent the flying car in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and Nagini – Voldemort’s terrifying and large snake, is nothing more than a stuffed animal snake on a leash. With each reveal of a set or prop piece, Clarkson further “proves” that he failed to prepare his part of the show, and in doing so, he only draws the audience further into the comedy.
Relationship with the Audience
Clarkson and Turner have been doing Potted Potter for over 12 years, and their performance still feels completely fresh and new. Their stage chemistry and shared comedic timing is spot-on, which helps the improvised elements sell even more. There are moments that Clarkson or Turner breaks into uncontrollable laughter because of a joke the other made. While in any other play this might be seen as “breaking character,” that quality only pushes this particular show over the top. Even with a space as large as Broadway Playhouse, Clarkson and Turner create a comfortable and intimate setting for the audience, which not only allows the entire house to have fun together, but also helps ensure enthusiastic audience participation.
In Book Four – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling writes about the Quidditch World Cup, and Clarkson and Turner embrace this plot point to bring the audience into the action. They release a ball into the audience to pass around from one side to the other – attempting to score a goal, as well as invite two young audience members on to the stage to act as the competing Seekers. The game is simple, but fun, and cleverly creates a fun and exciting form of audience participation for anyone in the audience – no matter how young. Audience participation can often fall flat depending on the audience, but this particular group could simply not get enough, which further demonstrates the kind of environment these performers have created.
Hysterical and clever, Potted Potter is a blast from start to finish. Clarkson and Turner’s piece makes for the perfect night out for Harry Potter fans.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago.
Now extended through February 25, 2018
Tuesdays at 7:30pm
Wednesdays at 7:30pm
Thursdays at 7:30pm
Fridays at 8:00pm
Saturdays at 2:00pm and 8:00pm
Sundays at 2:00pm
Run Time: 70 minutes, without intermission.
Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place
175 E. Chestnut St.
Chicago, IL 60611
Courtesy of POTTED POTTER
About the Author:
Lauren Katz is a freelance director and dramaturge, and new to the Chicago Theatre Scene. She recently moved from Washington DC, where she worked with Mosaic Theater Company of DC in Company Management, as well as directed around town with various theaters.
Click here to read more Picture this Post stories by Lauren Katz.