News Column

'Potted Potter' turns Harry on his head

November 14, 2013

YellowBrix

Nov. 14--"Harry Potter" fans might think boiling the seven-book series down to a 70-minute play might require an act of magic, but two Muggles have managed to pull it off without so much as a single spell.

"Potted Potter, The Unauthorized Harry Experience: A Parody by Dan and Jeff," a fast-paced, laugh-packed, two-man show, will be performed Nov. 20 to 24 at the Byham Theater.

Created by two-time Olivier Award-nominated actors Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner, "Potted Potter" takes the audience from Harry's humble beginnings under the stairs all the way to his fateful final encounter with He Who Must Not Be Named. One actor plays the role of Harry while the other works his magic to emulate everyone from Dumbledore to Dobby, Luna to Lupin.

The Pittsburgh performance will feature James Percy in the role of Harry and Delme Thomas using a constant flurry of wigs and props and often-changing voices to portray the remaining cast. Thomas admits in the midst of the chaos, it's often not just the audience who ends up laughing.

"I usually don't keep a straight face," says Thomas, a British actor who joined "Potted Potter" in New York in March. He and Percy are touring with the show through the first week of December. "We basically go out and have fun."

That energy makes the show entertaining for "Potter" diehards and first-timers alike. The show, described as "perfect for ages 6 to Dumbledore (who is very old indeed)," also features some audience participation.

"Potted Potter" began its growth in 2005, when Turner and Clarkson created a five-minute street show recapping the first five Potter books to perform for fans waiting for the midnight release of the sixth book.

A year later, the show expanded into an hourlong performance which premiered at Edinburgh's ZOO Southside venue. It continued to grow as the last book was published, and the duo took the show on tour around the United Kingdom.

It made its North American premiere in Toronto, then opened off-Broadway at New York City's Little Shubert Theater and in Chicago at the Broadway Playhouse.

YouTube videos of performances show all-ages audiences roaring with laughter as the pair plow through the plot lines. The show involves a good bit of improv, with the actors feeding off of the audience for each show. That results in a different performance in each city, Thomas says.

"The great thing about it is each audience is entirely different, so the show will be entirely different anywhere we go," he says.

Considering the first book, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," debuted 15 years ago, the series' staying power is "incredible," Thomas says.

"It's the typical story of the underdog triumphing at the end," he says. "It's what everybody relates to, but it happens outside reality. People don't really like reality."

U.K. native Clarkson says the Potter character came as a much-needed positive icon for England in particular.

"We're always the villains," he says with a laugh, referring to Hollywood's tendency to cast Brits as bad guys. "I think in Britain, we needed a hero. We don't get many that come along."

Clarkson, who is currently doing shows on the West Coast with Turner, also plays the role of "Everyone Else" in the show. Turner was the natural choice for Harry because he looks just like him -- "if you squint and look the other way," Clarkson says.

"And at 6-foot-5, I make a great Hermione," he says.

Clarkson says the extreme physical effort it takes to constantly switch characters pays off.

"I can tour America and eat whatever I like and get a workout each night," he says.

In the midst of the fast-paced plot, Clarkson sometimes has to touch his head to feel which wig he's wearing to remind himself who he's playing at that moment. Even that doesn't always work out.

"Once, I came out and said I was Dumbledore. I wasn't," he sighs. "I was Voldemort."

But little hiccups like that all add to the fun -- or what Clarkson likes to call "the organized chaos."

"One of the great things is, we do leave it open for improvisation," he says. "The audience is always willing to let it go a little bit wrong."

The favorite scene of both Thomas and Clarkson is ripe for just that. The middle of the show features an audience participation-heavy Quidditch match. Things can get a little unpredictable, Clarkson says.

"I've watched full-grown men slam children out of the way -- and not even their own children," he jokes.

The actors are mum on the exact details of how they pull off the high-flying sport played in the books with airborn brooms and bludgers. Clarkson simply calls it "an insurance nightmare."

"But we've only lost three children, so that's not so bad," he teases.

Of all the characters Thomas embodies, Snape is his favorite ("He's a bit campy, but in a funny way"), but when it comes to the books, he's most fond of the weary werewolf Remus Lupin.

Clarkson favors the villainous Voldemort, whom he calls "misunderstood."

"He's the lord of all evil, but he keeps getting beat by an 11-year-old school boy," Clarkson says. "I think all he needed was a nice chat and a hug."

Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948 or rweaver@tribweb.com.

Potter Parodies

Harry Potter fans haven't shied away from poking a little fun at The Boy Who Lived. The series is the inspiration for a slew of wickedly fun books, videos, songs and skits based loosely on J.K. Rowling's beloved series.

--"Barry Trotter" is a series of Harry Potter parodies written by Michael Gerber. The series includes "Barry Trotter and the Unauthorized Parody," "Barry Trotter and the Unnecessary Sequel" and "Barry Trotter and the Happy Horse." The books follow the adventures of "Barry Trotter," "Lon Measly" and "Ermine Cringer," who attend a school called Hogwash.

--Co-written by and starring "Glee" star Darren Criss, "A Very Potter Musical" is the unauthorized musical version of Harry Potter. StarKid Productions, a group of college students originally from the University of Michigan that included Criss, staged the show on the school's campus in 2009, after which it gained popularity thanks to YouTube views. Songs include "Gotta Get Back to Hogwarts" and "Granger Danger."

--The Potter Puppet Pals channel on YouTube has garnered millions of views for its collection of hilarious "Harry Potter" posts. Plotlines include Harry's meltdown at the sight of Ron penning a letter to his parents ("How does it feel, Ron? How does it feel to receive correspondence from the people who brought you into existence? Does it feel nice? I bet it feels nice!"), Harry and the gang reading Snape's secret diary and Harry asking Ginny out for the first time.

--Comedy website www.collegehumor.com features a Potter-related post about a fake original draft of the book that included a fourth main character, Kenny Nesbit, a no-nonsense wizard with a penchant for pointing out the obvious. For example, when Harry wonders who the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher will be, Kenny is quick to suggest perhaps Harry should stop taking that class, as everyone who's ever taught it has tried to kill him ("You know what else would help you stand a chance against Voldemort? Not being dead. Maybe you should take a class in that.")

--Harry has shown up in one way or another in several TV shows. One plot line in "The Simpsons" 2001 Halloween special features Bart and Lisa attending Springwart's School of Magicry and fighting off the evil Montymort. On "Saturday Night Live," Rachel Dratch played the boy wizard in several skits, and guest host Daniel Radcliffe himself even portrayed Harry 10 years after Hogwarts. Potter also has been parodied on "MADtv," where WWE star Triple H played Harry.

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