Calling all wizards, witches and even muggles: Suddenly, the city is awash in Harry Potter-inspired entertainment. The Wizard's Brunch will land in Denver this summer, serving up a magical three-course meal in a yet-to-be revealed location; the Colorado Symphony will offer "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" at Boettcher Concert Hall in August. And next week, Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Experience – A Parody by Dan and Jeff is booked for the University of Denver’s Newman Center for the Performing Arts.
What started as a small show on London’s West End in 2005 has become an international sensation, touring around the world for the past fourteen years. By combining all seven Harry Potter books into a seventy-minute two-man show, Potted Potter gleefully recaps the series while delivering goofy comedy fit for all ages.
The show was created by Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner, who also star; we caught up with Turner via email to learn more about how they bring the wacky wizarding world of Potted Potter to life.
Westword: How did you come up with the idea for this production?
Jefferson Turner: The show all came about as the result of a little piece we put together for the launch of the sixth book for a bookstore in London, in 2005. In 2006, we turned it into a sixty-minute show for the Edinburgh Festival, in Scotland, and it has just grown, year on year, from then.
Were you fans of the Harry Potter series before Potted Potter?
Dan was a huge fan, having read the first five books to his youngest brother at bedtimes. I had been a little resistant of it, as it was cool before I knew about it, but as soon as I started reading the first book, I was hooked. I read all five books that existed then in a week, so that I was as well-versed as I could be when we started working on the show.
The Harry Potter series has some notoriously long books! How did you manage to condense them all into seventy minutes?
We decided to focus on the relationship between Harry and Voldemort as our through-line, and so we have included as much as we can that impacts on that. It’s not easy, though; there is a heck of a lot of content in those books. Fortunately, we have never been scared to throw away 500 pages of plot in favor of a silly voice and a wig!
The two of you play seven books’ worth of different characters. Who is your favorite to play, and who is the most difficult?
Well, I have the lucky task of playing Harry all throughout the show. He is the title character and therefore the most important — which obviously makes me the most important, too. I believe Dan would possibly argue that his task of playing ALL the other characters is more important, but I couldn’t possibly agree with that. I will, however, say that his Hermione is something that needs to be seen to be believed.
Which book in the series is your favorite to perform?
My favorite is book four, The Goblet of Fire. Firstly, because that is when we re-create the Quidditch match within the theater, which is something that needs to be seen to be believed. It is also the book with the huge fire-breathing dragon, which is possibly the only thing in the entire show that eclipses the Quidditch match itself. So there’s quaffles and fire and beaters and terror, all within the space of the one book.
How do die-hard Harry Potter fans tend to react after seeing Potted Potter?
We have been incredibly fortunate that the superfans seem to really like the show. It was something we were very worried about, when we first came out to the States: how the American Potterheads were going to receive the show. I think because the show comes from a place of love, with Dan and I being huge fans of the boy wizard, this comes across in the show. We are very fond of Harry and his friends — and so, it turns out, are a whole lot of other folk.
Potted Potter has toured internationally. What’s it like performing the same play in so many different places around the world?
Well, we can never really believe just how many places this show has taken us. We were very concerned that the American audiences would be really different from the U.K. ones, but the same jokes seem to work both sides of the pond. The reactions of the audiences are different, though: American crowds are less reserved than back home. If you guys like a joke, you make sure that we know all about it.
Are there any hidden references that superfans should look out for during the performance?
There certainly have been over the years. We’ve put in lots of little jokes and nods when new books/films/websites/news have come out, so that the superfans have a little bonus extra laugh. One of my favorite recent ones was a silly little shuffle that we gave Dumbledore, inspired by Nicolas Flamel’s movements in The Crimes of Grindelwald. One person asked me, in the lobby after a show, if that was what we intended, and I was seriously happy that it had been spotted by at least one eagle-eyed spectator. These little jokes get taken out of the show again pretty quickly, as we are keen to stay relevant — so even I don’t know what little bonuses will be in the show by the time it gets to Denver.
Have you gotten any feedback from J.K. Rowling?
She knows we exist, and that is more than we could ever have hoped for. Maybe we should retire now, as it’s unlikely to get much better than that.
Since the show’s initial success, you’ve created other Potted productions like Potted Pirates and Potted Sherlock. How do those compare to Potted Potter?
Well, we like to think that we have matured as writers as we have gone along. Potted Pirates was our second show — our difficult second album — and we performed that for a few years, but it was quietly put to bed a few years back. Potted Sherlock is so much fun to perform; I get to grow a daft mustache and wear a bowler hat: What more could I ask for? The feel of all of our shows is similar; at the heart of them, it’s Dan and I messing around, getting to pretend to be our heroes, and getting it wrong more often than right. We’ve been wizards, pirates, princesses and detectives so far. Who knows what we will get to be next?
Who is the ideal audience for this show? Is Potted Potter targeted more at fans of the Harry Potter series, or would you say it also appeals to a general audience?
This is one of the things that we are most proud about with this show — pretty much everyone who comes to see it enjoys it. We wrote it, initially, with Potter fans in mind, but it turns out that even if you’ve never so much as picked up one of the books, you can still enjoy it. We have had so many people come up to us over the years and say how they weren’t expecting to enjoy it, as they’d been dragged along by a Potterhead, but had ended up enjoying it as much, if not more.
There are a lot of non-Potter cultural and geeky references in the show, as we don’t want to alienate anyone. We have also worked really hard to pitch the show to a variety of ages, and we still get great joy from watching an eight-year-old and her dad laughing at the same joke.
Potted Potter: the Unauthorized Harry Experience — A Parody by Dan and Jeff will be playing at the University of Denver’s Newman Center from March 26 through March 31. Tickets can be purchased here.