Potting Potter: Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner Cast a Spell Off-Broadway
By Michael Gioia
Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner, a couple of British Muggles — if you will — have whittled away at J.K. Rowling's famed "Harry Potter" series to tell the story of "The Boy Who Lived" in a mere 70 minutes. Their fast-paced "Unauthorized Harry Experience," Potted Potter, has "apparated" from the West End and landed at Off-Broadway's Little Shubert.
Potted Potter, a one-act parody — now in an extended Off-Broadway engagement — began as a five-minute street show in 2005. Clarkson, a die-hard "Harry Potter" fan, was commissioned to condense the first five novels and perform for "Potter" fans at the midnight release of the sixth book, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," in London. In hopes of obtaining the new book "before everybody else," he took the job.
"I needed someone to play Harry Potter, so I could be all the other characters," Clarkson explained. In walked Turner. "I saw Jeff [busking in Covent Garden] and thought, 'Well, if you squint and look the other way, he kind of looks like Daniel Radcliffe a bit.'" Turner, an eager storyteller who knew nothing of "Potter" — at the time — took on the challenge.
"I hadn't read any of the 'Harry Potter' books," admitted Turner, "so I read five in a week, so that we'd write this thing." The thing he so candidly referred to became the Olivier Award-nominated Potter production that pokes fun — in a "loving way," the duo made clear — at the bestselling series of novels, which tells the story of Harry Potter, a teen coming of age in the world of wizards, and "He Who Must Not Be Named," his archenemy formally known as Voldemort.
"I think the original version [of Potted Potter] was Harry Potter in Seven Days," laughed Clarkson. "We had enough material that we could just run and run and run and run. [Now] we're doing much of the Harry/Voldemort relationship, which means most subplots get kicked to the curb." With precious material at their fingertips — considering the fan base for the "Harry" series — Clarkson and Turner worked carefully to "pot" all seven novels into a comprehensive and entertaining 70 minutes.
"When we wrote it, we actually had a white board and a marker," said Turner, who tells the stories alongside Clarkson in a comedy-of-errors format. "We wrote each book down and said [that] no two could be the same." Potted Potter pits Turner as the "Potter" enthusiast with Clarkson as his uneducated sidekick. The two tell the books through song, a Power Point presentation and a game of Quidditch — the high-flying wizard sport — among others.
Interspersed throughout the show, which is styled in the form of British pantomime, are pop-culture references and mentions of the latest "Potter" craze. Over the course of Potted Potter, audiences have seen the character of Dumbledore sing "I Am What I Am" from La Cage aux Folles, when Rowling revealed that the Hogwarts headmaster was gay; the character of Harry exclaim that he wanted to be "naked and run with horses," when Radcliffe appeared in the West End and Broadway productions of Equus; and the team admit that they had "99 Problems, But the Snitch Ain't One," in reference to the popular rap song by Jay-Z.
Although the "Potter" series and movie adaptations have come to an end, the die-hard "Harry" fans live on. "There's a group called 'The Group That Must Not Be Named' based in New York," said Turner. "Someone [from the group] wrote a blog [online that] said, 'We make the jokes the fans would make.' It's almost like they approve of what we're doing."
Following their stint in New York, Clarkson and Turner — who still find themselves reading about Harry's adventures at Hogwarts (Clarkson's favorite book is "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix"; Turner's is "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire") — bring their "Potter Experience" to fans across the States. One seat, they said, is always left open for the "Potter" creator, herself — Ms. Rowling.
"If she ever came to see the show," beamed Clarkson, "I think I'd just stand there with a big smile on my face, trying to get her to sign my books."
(Michael Gioia's work frequently appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com. Write to him at email@example.com.)
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