Review: ‘Potted Potter’ at Shakespeare Theatre Company

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Potted Potter, Potted Productions’ rollicking parody of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels, is full of toy snakes, terrible wigs, and boatloads of physical comedy. The audience plays Quidditch. The actors sing along to a karaoke version of “I Will Survive.” The lights go crazy.

Jefferson Turner and Daniel Clarkson in Potted Potter. Photo courtesy of Potted Potter.
Jefferson Turner and Daniel Clarkson in Potted Potter. Photo courtesy of Potted Potter.

Potted Potter is a short, energetic show full of heart, even if it doesn’t have much of a brain. The performers’ commitment to their slapstick jokes makes their take on Harry Potter a spectacle for all ages, though it’s not a show that will stick with viewers for long after they leave the theater.

There’s a light plot that ties Potted Potter together. Scott (Scott Hoatson) wants to put on an epic theatrical version of all seven Harry Potter books, so he tells Dan (Daniel Clarkson) to go find actors, props, and a set for his magical vision. Dan wastes all of his budget on an animatronic dragon, though, so Scott and Dan are left to put on a two-man version of every book. Which they do, with vigor.

Hoatson and Clarkson are a classic comedy duo. Hoatson, whose character is prim and bookish, is the straight man to Clarkson’s wisecracking impersonator. Hoatson plays Harry Potter, while Clarkson plays every single other character in the series (and there are hundreds). The two vibe off each other’s energy, improvising jokes to fit the audience and never letting a moment fall flat.

Clarkson cheers during a game of what he imagines Quidditch might look like as an audience member playing a Seeker pantses Hoatson, who is dressed like the Golden Snitch. Hoatson – the actor, not the character – loses it when Clarkson smashes a Georgetown cupcake into his face and the melted icing drips into Clarkson’s nose. Though director Richard Hurst has the two tear through seven books, the actors never show that they’re tired. In fact, they had the audience clapping and stomping after five minutes, and the audience cheered almost nonstop for the rest of the show.

The audience was kid-heavy, and kids from 8 to 13 are the ones most likely to find Potted Potter funny. The physical humor is perfect for that age group, and kids lucky enough to sit in the front rows may find themselves called up on stage or asked a Harry Potter question. At 70 minutes, the show is neither too long for kids nor too short for adults. It does rely on knowledge of the Harry Potter series, though, and you might not find it funny if you don’t know the source material.

Jefferson Turner and Daniel Clarkson in Potted Potter. Photo courtesy of Potted Potter.
Jefferson Turner and Daniel Clarkson in Potted Potter. Photo courtesy of Potted Potter.

The set, by Simon Scullion, is as light and silly as the show. A toy train (the Hogwarts Express), a wardrobe (from the Chronicles of Narnia), and a coffin (it’s not related, Clarkson explains, then shrugs) are some of the random objects scattered across the stage. The actors have a massive collection of hats, wigs, and other props hidden behind the wardrobe, and they frequently dash behind it as one character, then come around the other side as another.

The lights (Tim Mascall) and sound (which features an original score by Phil Innes) are way more polished than you’d expect. When Harry (Hoatson) and Voldemort (Clarkson) square off in a wrestling match, the stage lights go crazy, strobing the audience with red, blue, and green. A disco ball scatters light across the space during their rendition of “I Will Survive.” The cues come fast, and the light and sound operators never miss.

I have to admit, though: I was hoping that Potted Potter would have something genuine underneath. As a Potterhead, I love parodies and satire that shine with a nugget of the same love, bravery, and adversity that make the books themselves such a hit. That’s why shows like Puffs and books like Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On resonate so well. Potted Potter doesn’t have that.

It’s hilarious, though, so who cares what’s underneath? Most audience members are probably hardcore fans of Harry Potter who just want to see their favorite books mercilessly skewered. Potted Potter does just that, and it’s set to excellent lighting and sound in a lovely theater.

What’s not to enjoy about that?

Running Time: 70 minutes, with no intermission.

Potted Potter plays through April 22, 2018, at the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F St NW, Washington, DC 20004. For tickets, go online.