EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 15, 2013

'Potted Potter' spellbinds fans Production covers seven potter books in one whirlwind, 70-minute show

By Kelly Burch
kburch@eagletribune.com

---- — BOSTON — Dust off your broomsticks, practice your potions and bring your Muggle friends into The Paramount Theater for a magical night of spoofs and spells .

The Harry Potter books and movies may be finished, but “Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Experience — A Parody by Dan and Jeff “offers a hilarious fix for those suffering from Potter withdrawals.

The play, which opens in Boston this Tuesday, Sept. 17, covers all seven books in the series in just 70 minutes.

That’s a feat that required some magical writing. Luckily, creators Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner weren’t too concerned with trying to cover every detail.

“We’re not afraid to cut 500 pages to make people laugh,” Turner said. “It’s very fast-paced, prop-based comedy. We start with wigs and hats, see where we go.”

The duo, former Children’s BBC presenters, began “Potted Potter” as a five-minute skit to perform to Harry Potter fans awaiting the release of the sixth book.

“It was only ever going to be one day,” Turner said. “We were struggling actors, and this was a day’s pay.”

However, the fans loved it, and Clarkson and Turner realized that they were onto something.

“It’s gone crazy from there. Each year it gets a little bigger,” Turner said.

For Turner, the success of the skit meant that he needed to do some serious studying of the Harry Potter series, which he had never read. Luckily, Clarkson was the perfect tutor.

“Dan was an absolutely massive avid fan, who genuinely queued at midnight for the book,” Turner said.

Turner buckled down and read all the books in one week.

“I was hooked. I absolutely loved it,” he said. “Although I don’t know if I can ever be as big a fan as Dan.”

After the success of the initial performance, Clarkson and Turner wrote a longer show and took it on the road. “Potted Potter” was a success at comedy festivals around the globe, and even non-Potter fans were eager to see the parody.

“We were careful to try to get as much in to appeal to non-fans, because we didn’t know who was going to show up,” Turner said. “We’ve been so surprised and delighted at the number of people that say they know nothing about Harry Potter, but loved the show.”

Of course, there is no way to capture the 4,224 pages of the series in a 70-minute show. The duo has learned to focus on the relationship between Harry and Voldemort, which they believe is comedic gold.

“There’s and awful lot of humor there,” Turner said. “We focus on the very, very fundamental points, and entertain as much as possible.”

You can’t please everyone, however. Turner and Clarkson regularly have people complain that their favorite character from the books did not appear in “Potted Potter.”

“Professor Umbridge and Luna Lovegood are left out, and we hear about that a lot,” Turner said.

With a small bit of improv and a large game of Quidditch (with audience participation, of course) in each show, the audience — and the actors — never quite know what to expect.

“We have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen. We’ve performed the show over 1,500 times, so if it had been the same each night we would have lost our minds,” Turner said.

Even after performing it so many times, Turner and Clarkson were nervous about bringing “Potted Potter” to America.

“When we opened in New York we were terrified, thinking, ‘Will we be on the first plane back home?’” Turner said. “But Brittish-ness is in vogue in The States at the moment, so it’s wonderful timing. Dr. Who and Harry Potter paved the way for us.”

Despite the writers’ worries, the comedy in “Potted Potter” translated just fine across the pond. In fact, the American shows have been sell-outs — well, nearly.

According to the show’s lore, an unknowing ticket salesgirl turned away J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, from a sold-out show in Edinburgh, Scotland.

“Since then we always have one ticket that is never sold,” Turner said. “Just in case.”

If You Go What: "Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Experience -- A Parody by Dan and Jeff." Where: The Paramount Center Mainstage, 559 Washington St., Boston. When: Sept. 17 to Oct. 6. How: Tickets are $39.99-$79.99. Call 617-824-8000 or visit www.paramountboston.org.