Much like similar attempts to reduce the complete works of Shakespeare into a single scant theatrical running time, the unauthorized J.K. Rowling reduction Potted Potter (now on stage until March 25th at the Panasonic Theatre in Toronto after successful runs in the UK) has the feeling of a madcap romp boiled down to a science. This cramming of all seven Harry Potter books into a 70 minute production definitely skews slightly towards a younger crowd, but the fan appeal is undeniable and the uninitiated will have a hard time erasing the ear to ear grin from their faces.
Writers and performers Jefferson Turner and Daniel Clarkson bring to the table a genuine love for the source material and boundless comedic energy. The energy is key, especially in the case of Clarkson, who has to play every role that isn’t Harry in rapid succession despite playing a character who has never once read any of the books all the way through. He serves as the perfect foil for Turner’s bookish and straight laced storyteller and Harry surrogate. Turner makes a great straight man, reacting perfectly to Clarkson’s raging ignoramus with an unhealthy obsession for Quidditch and an insistence for playing Ron Weasley as a South London gangsta.
While the production is credited as being directed by Richard Hurst, this show clearly belongs to the stars. The amount of fun being had on stage becomes positively infectious as the show goes on, making the moments of crowd participation feel earned rather than forced. Turner’s stick in the mud and Clarkson’s genial silliness make it easy to follow them on this fast paced journey through the biggest literary event of this still young millennium. Even when things don’t go according to plan (and apparently no two shows ever go the exact same way), the leads put in phenomenal efforts to keep the audience engaged and laughing, which is great since the production design is purposefully minimalist and cheeky in terms of how cheap it all is.
The show does get off to a bit of a rocky start with a somewhat overlong prologue that gives the show a sense that it’s starting twice, and the ending feels a bit rushed despite the incorporation of the show’s sole musical number. Still, youngsters and fans of the Potter series should have a blast with this one, and those still uninitiated (if there are many of you left) will have no trouble accessing the story at all. It’s not always laugh out loud funny, but it’s perceptive, literary, and brings consistent smiles.