With the temperatures nearing triple digits in New York City and the quest to find suitable air conditioning in full swing, the creators of Potted Potter, an unauthorized parody of the Harry Potter books, are hoping audiences spend some time at the Little Shubert Theatre. Their fast-paced performance promises not just cool temps, but a game of Quidditch, some hilarious improvisation and a retelling of all seven Harry Potter tomes — and they achieve this in under 70 minutes.
Meet Daniel Clarkson and Jeff Turner, two self-described Harry Potter fanatics who have taken their love of J.K. Rowling’s series and brought it to sold-out audiences around the world. They’ve now parked their magic brooms on 42nd Street for a summer run of the popular parody.
Playing in the Big Apple seems like a dream come true for the comedy duo, especially since Potted Potter had humble beginnings back in London. “It was back in 2005,” Clarkson told Hollywood Soapbox. “A friend of mine was working for a PR company for a bookstore in London on Oxford Street and wanted to do something to launch the sixth Harry Potter book, and we came up with this idea of doing all five books in 5 minutes, just for a publicity stunt. And then when we performed it that evening to launch the sixth book at midnight, we got an amazing reaction. Myself and Jeff realized that this was a very popular boy wizard. We expanded the show to an hour, which we then took to the Edinburgh Comedy Festival back in 2006. … We’ve been to the West End and Olivier nominated and now we find ourselves in New York City.”
Interestingly, Turner said that audience members who fall in love with Potted Potter are not always fanatical about Rowling’s creations. Many of them are new to the franchise. “When we first wrote the show, we thought it would pretty much be appealing to people who know about Harry Potter and are big Harry Potter fans,” Turner said. “As we’ve grown and grown over the last few years, people keep on telling us that you don’t need to know Harry Potter to enjoy the show. If you are a Harry Potter fan, you might get a bit more out of it, because there are a few in-jokes. … What we’re really able to do is make it fun for as many people as possible, to adults or kids.”
Clarkson recounted a recent visitor to the show who was quite appreciative of the crash course on Hogwarts. “We had a dad with two daughters, and he was thanking us because it was the first time he was able to understand what his daughters were talking about at the breakfast table,” Clarkson said.
The show has been performed more than 1,000 times for audiences in many different locations. Both Clarkson and Turner don’t find too many differences between English and American audiences. The one glaring exception is that “New York audiences are louder” with many people shouting out and verbally enjoying the show, Turner said.
The physicality of the performance and type of comedy on display at the Little Shubert Theatre has its foundations in both American and British comedy. “A lot of our inspiration just came from British comedy,” Clarkson said. “We’re huge Monty Python fans. But also we have a huge amount of respect and admiration for the American comedy, things like Saturday Night Live, which we grew up watching.”
During the development phase, the two actors were surprised by how much of the storyline they had committed to memory. They didn’t need to constantly reference Rowling’s seven books to put together the show. “I was going to say I’m a closet geek, but I’m very open about it,” Clarkson said. “I’m a huge Harry Potter fan. So we knew these books backwards. And, to be honest, when we took the first job, part of it for me was that I could get my hands on the big book before anyone else. … Working together on our combined knowledge we were able to edit it down quite quickly and succinctly.
Turner said the pacing of the show and its 70-minute duration is perfectly calculated. Anything longer, he said, would grow tiring for both the actors and the audiences. “If we made it any longer, we would have to have an interval,” Turner said. “We like the rollercoaster feel of it. Once you start, there’s no going back.”
Still, performing at such a quick speed with no chance to take a break can be physically draining. “In the way we do the show, Jeff plays Harry Potter, which leaves me to play all 300 other characters,” Clarkson said. “So I am racing around at breakneck speed doing costume changes and becoming different characters, which for me is the perfect workout. Never mind all these videos you get on TV now. This is the best workout I’ve ever had, which is great for being in New York.”
Turner concurred: “It’s the best job in the world. I wouldn’t change what’s happening right now for anything.”
“Any actor worth their salt would give their right arm to take this challenge and play all these characters,” Clarkson said. “It’s all very well that Alan Rickman got to play Severus Snape, but I get to play Severus Snape and Voldemort and Hermione and Ron. I get to play all these characters, which for an actor is just a dream.”
The plan is for Potted Potter to continue in New York City until Aug. 12. After a short break to see some family back in England, the comedy duo will take the show on the road to other locations throughout the United States. “We’re getting to see all of America,” Clarkson said. “Essentially it’s two very good friends messing around and having fun on stage with the Harry Potter books, which is something we love very dearly. We’re going to be here until immigration gets rid of us.”
Turner said the parody never grows old because of the richness of the source material. “I think if we were doing the show about anything other than something as huge and popular as Harry Potter, then we probably would have got bored by now,” Turner said.
“Something like Harry Potter will definitely outlive both me and Jeff,” Clarkson added. “The love for the wizard is going to continue for a long time.”
Despite the monumental success of the show, there may be one regret to the Potted Potter journey. Back in 2006, Clarkson and Turner sold out a three-week engagement. At the last show, the manager of the theater and box office attendant turned away a “lady who looked very much like J.K. Rowling,” Turner said. “Maybe J.K. Rowling tried to see our show and we turned her away.”
To compensate, the guys now leave one seat in the theater open at every performance — just in case the creator would like to come back and see her creations on stage.
By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com
Potted Potter is currently running at the Little Shubert Theatre at 422 W. 42nd St. in New York City. The show is recommended for anyone from “6 to Dumbledore.” Click here for more information.