Potted is a slang term that means drunk, and while it is certainly true that the two actors who star in Potted Potter, now playing at the Broadway Playhouse, are loose and having a grand time, in this case, the word is a British term that means to condense, as in to contain in a pot. In Potted Potter, the audience is treated to all seven Harry Potter novels in a period of 70 minutes, and both they and the actors have a great time.
Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner, a pair of British actors on tour with Potted Potter who call themselves simply “Dan and Jeff,” have created a crazy kaleidoscope of a show that takes these books and transforms them into sheer ridiculous silliness with no agenda but having fun. They begin with book one, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and work their way through to book seven, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, taking the time to have audience participation along the way.
Turner takes on the role of Harry Potter for the evening (with “Harry” written across his forehead instead of a scar), which leaves Clarkson to play every other in the entire Potter universe. He takes on the other two of the Big Three, of course, Ron and Hermione, but he also manages to portray Malfoy, Voldemort, Snape, Dumbledore, Mad-Eye Mooney, Sirius Black, Lupin, the basilisk, Hagrid, Dobby, and other characters as well. In one wild bit culminating Book Six, he somehow manages to play almost all of them in rapid-fire succession to Turner’s Potter, using a wardrobe that is part of the absurd set (he claims he thought it was needed to get to Narnia) to rapidly change wigs, silly hats, or ridiculous props as he further differentiates characters with silly voices. Clarkson is a whirlwind of activity and humor, and throughout the night, he is clearly enjoying his own performance as well as Turner’s. It’s that kind of show: the kind where the actors break character and appear to have as much fun as the audience does.
One early gag in the show is Clarkson’s desire to have Quidditch match on stage and Turner’s response that it’s impossible to do. From the get-go, of course, we know it’s going to happen; we just don’t know how or when. It occurs at the beginning of Book Four during the Quidditch World Cup sequence. The audience is divided into Slytherin and Gryffindor and two child volunteers are selected as seekers, the critical position meant to find the Golden Snitch and end the game. On opening night, the actors got more than they bargained for. The Slytherin seeker, a young girl of boundless energy and rambunctious temperament, was hilariously difficult to work with. When Turner came on portraying the Golden Snitch, he seemed noticeably unnerved at the notion of being caught by her, and everyone in the house understood why. The boy who was the Gryffindor’s seeker couldn’t stop laughing at what was going on with his counterpart, and no one could blame him.
Having survived (barely) a Quidditch match, Clarkson and Turner went on to go through Books Five through Seven probably more quickly than usual because they had used it so much time with the extra-long match. Notwithstanding the rush, it was all very entertaining. Not every joke landed but enough for the audience to be in stitches most of the night. It is also obvious that they were ad-libbing quite a bit, noting once, “That joke is gonna stay in tomorrow night” and other side comments of that nature.
Another running joke found Clarkson having been tasked with building the set or procuring props or creating an animatronic snake or other things for the show, but instead having wasted all of his money on an expensive, massive dragon prop for Book Four’s Tri-Wizard Tournament. When we finally do get to see the dragon, suffice it to say that the audience gets their money’s worth of laughs right there. And we can definitely see where the show’s props budget has gone.
This duo works together easily and smoothly, and they should: this is a show they created and they’ve been touring with it for years. No matter what happens they don’t seem to be able to be flustered by it. Opening night presented them with several difficulties even beyond the insanity of the Quidditch match, but they were able to work through it in such a way that it probably made the show even funnier and, as they did with the match, turn it into a running joke for the remainder of the evening. Clarkson’s banter to the audience during the Quidditch match was often hilarious as was their banter with each other. They played off each other beautifully, seasoned performers that they are.
Potted Potter may not be high-class entertainment and probably isn’t necessarily the best show in town but it’s eighty minutes of entertainment that is certainly fun and full of humor. It is a good time and the kids absolutely loved it, as did the kids inside of all of the grownups in attendance. Every once in awhile, it’s great to give yourself permission to laugh over pure silliness, and when that silliness is totally enjoyable as this show, your inner child will thank you for the experience.
Potted Potter is now playing at Broadway Playhouse, 175 E. Chestnut until January 21. Tickets are $25-70 and are available from Broadway In Chicago. Find more information about current plays on our Current Shows page and at theatreinchicago.com.
Karen Topham, American Theatre Critics Association member