I will admit, I found it a bit difficult to contain my excitement as I walked towards Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall for Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Experience last night. As someone who had read all the Harry Potter books and even attended a few of the film midnight premieres, I felt that a show set out to cover all seven books would be the perfect finale for an incredible story that informed so much of my childhood. Looking back, I can make two conclusions: First, judging by the full house of audience members of all ages, I was clearly not the only one inspired by J.K. Rowling’s magical series. Second, Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner, with their hilarious writing, brilliant comedic timing, and high energy, truly know how to win over a crowd.
Directed by Richard Hurst and written by Clarkson and Turner, Potted Potter attempts to take on all seven books in seventy minutes. The play was organized by book, and while the actors did succeed in covering all of them, they seemed to meet every obstacle imaginable from Clarkson “failing” to read the books to Turner, dressed in a golden fat suit, getting tackled to the ground. The production is full of constant humor, and part of the cleverness was that each part of the show was connected to the comedy, right down to the set.
I especially enjoyed that every bit of Simon Scullion’s set was acknowledged and incorporated into the show in an important way. For example, at the beginning of the show, the set was used to introduce the actors and their role in the production. Turner was established as the “Simon Scullion,” and while he read the books, Clarkson was supposed to take care of all the other aspects of the production, including set pieces. He revealed a coffin labeled “SPOO-KY,” a beach backdrop labeled as “Haunted Forrest,” and a wardrobe meant to enter Narnia. Not only did the set create the mood for a hilarious and somewhat random play, but the Clarkson’s presentation of his work introduced a banter that remained consistent for the entire show. Throughout the production, the two actors argued over the fact that Clarkson clearly did not read the books, and made questionable budgetary decisions.
Prop comedy was also a major hit in this production, and much of the humor came from the running banter and the element of surprise. As we traveled through the books, opportunities would arise for another grand prop, like a car in Book Two, or the large Basilisk that Harry is supposed to fight in the Chamber of Secrets.
As the audience was introduced to each hilarious, yet cheap, prop, it quickly became clear that while Turner had planned on grand props that would impress the audience, Clarkson had different plans for the big dragon in Book Four. When the time finally came to introduce the dragon, the suspense was at an all-time high. I found myself sitting on the edge of my seat, anxious to see the intense prop that Clarkson found. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, Clarkson revealed the ‘incredible’ dragon and the laughter that erupted throughout the audience was proof that Clarkson and Turner had played the comedy brilliantly.
I have never been a big fan of audience participation, and usually I find that it draws me out of a theatrical piece. However, Potted Potter was the first show I have experienced that not only made me appreciate the audience participation, but I even found myself wanting to get involved. The Quidditch Match in Book Four became a sporting event. The audience had a blast and everyone was getting involved. They found their team spirit through shouting cheers, and the entire experience proved to be an excellent way to bring the energy even higher, and keep the audience intrigued.
While Clarkson and Turner received numerous laughs from props and their hilarious writing, I felt the true comedy stemmed from their incredible chemistry. To place an entire show on the shoulders of two actors could be a difficult task, but Clarkson and Turner conquered the challenge with ease. They played off each other brilliantly, and their comedic timing was spot-on, but the best aspect by far was that these two actors were clearly having a blast performing this show together on that stage. I am a sucker for passion in an actor’s work, and these two performers blew me away. And as their high energy never faltered, I could tell when something failed to go as planned because one of the actors would break into hysterical laughter, and this pushed the show over-the-top even more.
Both actors brought their own special talents into the piece. While Turner created a character that was an expert in the world of Harry Potter and wanted nothing more than to make this show succeed, Clarkson created the role of a jokester, who became an obstacle for Turner’s goal. The contrast between characters increased the comedy, and made the show even more of a joy to watch.
A blast from start to finish, Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Experience is a ‘Must-See event. It is not everyday that I see a production that concludes with every single audience member cheering, and jumping to their feet to give the actors a standing ovation, but Clarkson and Turner deserved every bit of applause. Clarkson and Turner have an impressive talent when it comes to writing and performing, and I hope to see more of their work in the future.
Running Time: 70 minutes, with no intermission.
Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Experience plays through September 15, 2013 at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall – 610 F Street NW in Washington, DC. For tickets, purchase them online.
Potted Potter website.