And this show is nothing if not silly - they don't treat their source material with too much reverence, and they pull out lots of goofy wigs and funny voices as they go.
—Joff Schmidt, theatre reviewer
Fans of the Harry Potter books had to wait 10 years and slog through thousands of pages to digest the saga of the boy wizard. But really, who has time for that?
Luckily, there's U.K. duo Dan and Jeff, who bring their hit show Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Experience to Manitoba Theatre for Young People this week.
Potted Potter makes a bold promise - all seven Harry Potter books covered in 70 minutes. And the duo (Dan Clarkson and Jeff Turner, who initially created the show as a five-minute long street performance) pull it off with great energy and lots of laughs.
It starts with the basic premise (oddly abandoned as the show progresses) that Jeff is an expert in all things Potter, while Dan is clueless. It's a clever way to draw in both diehard Potter fans and those (like yours truly) who are generally ignorant of the Potterverse. And Dan and Jeff milk their Laurel and Hardy relationship for all it's worth as the show goes on.
But how do they cram all that Potter into 70 minutes? (Or so - the performance I saw ran a bit closer to 80.) Much of the gag in a show like this is in how hilariously, preposterously truncated the story is. For example, pretty much the entire 750 pages of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - including the climactic battle between Harry and his nemesis, Voldemort - is reduced to a musical finale set to the tune of "I Will Survive." The convoluted plot of book three, The Prisoner of Azkaban, becomes a quick PowerPoint presentation.
That's about as high tech as Potted Potter gets, though. A running gag is that Dan has spent the show's entire budget on "the dragon in book four." So, drawing on their background as street performers, Dan and Jeff use fairly minimal sets and props, relying instead on big, silly characters, unflagging energy, and a breakneck pace to carry the show.
And this show is nothing if not silly - they don't treat their source material with too much reverence, and they pull out lots of goofy wigs and funny voices as they go. This sometimes boils down to good-natured chaos - the quidditch match that comes mid-show (complete with audience participation) whipped the young crowd I saw the show with into a frenzy.
It also means the show is sometimes sloppy - the rhythm's not totally right (some bits run longer than they should, and the ending's strangely abrupt). All of this is excused, though, by the fact that Dan and Jeff are tremendously likable, know how to work a crowd, and never leave a moment's breathing space for boredom to settle in.
It's a highly entertaining Coles Notes version of the series for those who aren't Potter fans - and a smart, irreverent, and terrifically fun take on it for those who are.
Potted Potter runs at MTYP through November 11