Potted Potter: two Muggles act out seven books in 70 minutes
A comedy double act – one an expert on all matters Harry Potter, the other not knowing his horcruxes from his Hufflepuffs – are riding their Quidditch broomsticks to Ireland
Two guys; a handful of props; all seven Harry Potter books in 70 minutes. That’s the premise of Dan Clarkson and Jeff Turner’s Potted Potter , which will be whizzing around Ireland over the Easter holidays, recreating our favourite characters from the world’s best-known fantasy series as well as offering audiences the chance to join in a live game of Quidditch.
Clarkson and Turner are a beguiling comedy double act. In interviews, they bat questions back and forth, duetting in the manner of Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones in Pete-and-Dud mode. Onstage they play as polar opposites: Turner the expert on all matters Potter, Clarkson the innocent who doesn’t know his horcruxes from his Hufflepuff. (Which is why, as the show begins, he has furnished the stage with two warthogs – and a wardrobe through which he confidently expects everyone to disappear to Narnia.)
Their own rather magical story began in the summer of 2005 with the publication of the sixth book in the Hogwarts series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince . “A friend of ours was working for a PR firm,” Clarkson recalls. “He knew the style of comedy we did, and was a fan of Harry Potter, and said: ‘Would you like to do something for the launch of this book?’”
They imagined they’d be playing to 50 or 60 sleepy people, queuing at a London bookshop ahead of the book’s midnight release. Instead they found themselves surrounded by a thousand hyped-up Harry Potter fans. “The reaction was amazing,” says Turner. “It was meant to be a 15-minute sketch – but when we performed it, it was 35 minutes because of the laughter and the cheers and the interaction with the crowd. We were blown away. We were hoarse by the end of it.”
That, they thought, would be the end of that. Other jobs came up – including a stint as storytellers on Blue Peter – before they realised there might be more mileage in the Potter parody. “It was actually Dan’s mum who said, ‘That thing you did at the bookshop would be perfect for the Edinburgh Festival’,” says Turner. “It hadn’t crossed our minds.”
Curtains for a set
They worked Potted Potter into a 60-minute show and headed to the Edinburgh Fringe the following summer. “My younger brother had Harry Potter curtains,” says Clarkson. “I took them out of his room and hung them over a bit of cardboard and said: ‘Right. That’s our set.’ ”
“Dan’s parents produced it,” says Turner.
“As in, they gave us a lift to the station and went, ‘There you go. Good luck,’” Clarkson clarifies.
Having seen the show, a producer friend suggested they take it on tour. “He wanted to up the production values,” says Clarkson. So the curtains were pulled? “Yes.” It’s contagious, this improv stuff.
Both Turner and Clarkson admit to being amazed by how Potted Potter has run and run. They’ve just directed a Spanish-language production in Mexico, then transferred to Ottawa in Canada – “which was minus 30, so it was sneeze-and-break-your- snot-off-in-icicles time” – before playing New York. A three-city Irish tour will take them to Galway, Cork and Dublin.
Do audiences in different countries react differently? “The way to look at it is how we handle sports,” says Clarkson. “We play a game of Quidditch in the show. The British are very polite – they applaud like a crowd watching a cricket match. With the Americans it’s like a big football match. They’re cheering and they’re whooping and they’re waving stuff. The Mexicans storm the stage.”
Punters have been known to turn up in full Potterhead costume. “It’s always embarrassing when their costumes show us up,” says Turner. “We’re supposed to be the professionals, but the real Harry Potter fans are incredible. There was a woman who had the Gryffindor coat of arms tattooed on her chest.” Seriously? “Absolutely. In America it’s taken to huge levels.
“But the one we’ll always remember was in Wales. A guy turned up dressed as Dobby. He had a full head mask on, and a shawl, and he sat there and he watched the whole show.”
“Very disconcerting when Dobby’s eyes are staring at you from the audience the whole way through the show,” says Clarkson. “We still don’t know whether he enjoyed it.”
Rowling ‘just lets us be’
Have their international activities not brought them to the attention of JK Rowling and her vigilant intellectual property elves? “Some of her people have seen the show, and she obviously knows it exists because that’s how these things work. But she just lets us be,” says Turner.
“Because we’re coming from a place of love,” adds Clarkson. “We’re not trying to rip off the books. We’re saying: we love these characters. I think they realise we’re not some big corporation who just turned up to rip off the Harry Potter name.”
Some fans, however, have complained that despite portraying a range of characters in the show, from Dumbledore to Draco Malfoy, and from Nagini the snake to the dragon from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire , Potted Potter is a bit short on wizards of the female variety
“We don’t have Mrs Weasley. Or Bellatrix,” says Turner.
“Obviously we have Hermione,” Clarkson chips in.
“But look.” Turner spreads his hands in apology. “We are two thirtysomething males – and there’s only so many gags you can get out of us playing women. We milk every single one of them. Trust me.”
How do they explain the continuing appeal of the scarred and bespectacled one? “There’s just nothing else like Harry Potter, and it crosses all ages,” says Turner. “There’s something – pardon the pun – magic about it.”
“Is it that they’re wizards?” asks Clarkson.
“Well, you’ve put your finger on it, Dan,” says Turner. And off they go again.
Potted Potter is at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin, April 14 -20 ; the Every man Theatre, Cork, April 22 -26 ; and the Town Hall Theatre, Galway, April 29 to May 4