Potted Potter is a two-man comedy hour that’s loosely based on J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, and it’s returning to the Little Shubert Theatre and New York for its second consecutive summer season. It’s intensely silly, and children will love it.
Make no mistake: there is little actual Harry Potter content in this play; it’s an attempt to dress up a fairly average piece of slapstick children’s comedy with a brand name to boost ticket sales. Yet, someone without knowledge of the books or movies would miss a lot of jokes. The two comedians—daft Daniel Clarkson (Dan) and “Harry Potter expert” Jefferson Turner (Jeff)—rarely engage with the actual books, instead using allusions and character names as a jumping off point for their brand of comedy. The result is off-putting. And yes, there are spoilers.
The concept is that Jeff and Dan are attempting to recount the entirety of the Harry Potter canon in just over an hour (as opposed to the 15 hours the movies run). There’s a lot of story to cover, but Potted Potter doesn’t really try, despite its “all seven hilarious Potter books in under seventy minutes” tagline. Here’s what happens: Jeff starts reading and summarizing the book, while Dan plays dumb, goofs off, and eventually produces a silly prop—a vacuum cleaner, maybe, instead of a broom. A couple gags later, we’re on to the next book. Rinse and repeat six times.
This might seem like a trivial quibble with a show not meant to be taken seriously, but there are several major inconsistencies in Potted Potter. Jeff continually chides Dan for having not read the books, but often—only seconds later—Dan makes a remark which shows a strong understanding of minute plot details. It may be silly to say inconsistencies like that make it difficult to take anything seriously, but here we are.
Which isn’t to say Potted Potter can’t be entertaining. The show has a strong improv vibe, and at least some of the jokes and quips feel off the cuff. The incarnation of Ron Weasley as a cockney accented proto-Ali G is inspired. About forty minutes in, the on-stage action stops and a beach ball is thrown into the audience in an attempt to recreate Quidditch, which is fun in the way you might chuckle while doing the wave at a baseball game.
But if tomorrow J. K. Rowling’s massive licensing machine started working on a Broadway or West End production with an official Harry Potter license, Potted Potter‘s ticket sales would plummet and it would be soon forgotten. There are a number of superior approaches to adapting The Boy Who Lived for the stage—a musical, for instance—and this one is aggressively “unauthorized.”