Potted Potter at the Stateside
Touring version of this two-man parody delivers an irreverent and interactive recap of J.K. Rowling's beloved series
Reviewed by Stephanie Carll, Fri., Nov. 20, 2015
There are seven books in the Harry Potter series – roughly 4,000 pages, 772 characters, and 1,084,170 words. The average person speaks 130 words per minute. So how in the name of Merlin's beard can two British blokes condense J.K. Rowling's epic series into just 75 minutes? Well, they can't, really, but they sure have a blast trying.
Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Experience was originally created by Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner as a five-minute street sketch to entertain fans awaiting the release of the sixth book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and has since grown to delight Muggles across the world jonesing for a wizardry fix. In British slang, "potted" describes something that's briefly and superficially summarized (although this cheeky two-man show might call to mind other connotations). Conjuring the spirits of the classic comedy duos, alternate performers James Percy and Joseph Maudsley (stepping in for Clarkson and Turner) lead us through a family-friendly evening that bewitches both newcomers and hardcore Potterheads alike with audience interaction and a lively irreverence.
The formula is established before the show begins: One actor (Percy) sits onstage studiously poring over book 7 of the series, while the other guy (Maudsley) awkwardly climbs through the audience of the Stateside, greeting attendees. He reassures my date, who admits to Maudsley that he hasn't read the books, "Don't worry, mate. Neither have I." Frequently, the absence of the fourth wall can make theatergoers wish they could hide under an invisibility cloak, but children and adults alike (the latter in the overwhelming majority here) eagerly answer questions posed by the performers and participate with gusto in a real-life game of Quidditch. (Watching a grown man dressed like a Golden Snitch body-slammed to the ground by two children volunteering as Seekers? Comedy gold.) The show's street roots are preserved in its low production values: a DIY-looking set and makeshift props reminiscent of the bargain rack at Lucy in Disguise.
Old-school humor dominates – sight gags, physical bits, pratfalls, and misunderstandings à la "Who's on First?" – but it's the improvised bits that make this show shine like the sword of Gryffindor. Who doesn't love it when performers crack themselves up so thoroughly that they have to take a moment to regain composure? (Chris Farley and David Spade's classic SNL "Van Down by the River" sketch comes to mind.) These spontaneous moments have a way of including the audience that the scripted interactions just can't touch. It's completely endearing and utterly hilarious, and we are grateful to see that these guys don't take themselves too seriously. In fact, they are quite self-aware and self-deprecating: "I think we all can agree, the real victim here is 'theatre.'" Brilliant.
Percy and Maudsley deliver the age-old recipe: the "straight" character, who's all serious and trying very hard to get it right, and the "goof," whose ignorance and buffoonery threaten to ruin it all. But it is through this juxtaposition that audiences of all levels of Harry Potter experience can relate. Humorously confusing the world of the Potter books with Narnia and Middle Earth, Maudsley eases the nerves of the neophytes and assures us that even if you don't know the difference between Fawkes and Floo Powder, you'll still fancy this light-hearted parody. It's not high art – and doesn't claim to be – but Potted Potter certainly casts a spell over the audience.
Potted PotterStateside Theatre, 719 Congress
Through Nov. 29
Running time: 1 hr., 15 min.