Theater Review: Potted Potter
It’s hard to believe that the final book in the amazing Harry Potter series was released so many years ago. Although the story is over, the spell it cast over the world still lingers. Potted Potter keeps the magic alive by retelling the Harry Potter story with a fresh and comedic spin. Created by Daniel Clarkson and Jeff Turner, Potted Potter is a creative stage show that consolidates all seven of the Harry Potter books into one hilarious 70-minute performance. Originally formed in the improv setting of London street theater (or theatre as they spell it over there), the show crossed the pond to America a few months ago and is now running at the Prince Music Theater in Philadelphia. At the start of its Philadelphia run, I was given the treat of experiencing Potted Potter for myself.
Upon entering the theater the audience was greeted with a fancy scroll and enchanting music that sounds a lot like the John Williams Harry Potter theme song, but less copyrighted. Unrolling the scroll reveals it to be the playbill. Well played, Potted Potter, well played. As we waited for the show to start, one of the performers came out to greet the audience. He shook everyone’s hands and was extremely polite. Everyone around me also agreed when I said that he smelled really nice. I’m not even exaggerating, like this guy smelled like what I imagine Christmas at Hogwarts smells like. On stage, the other performer sat still and silent, reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The show hadn’t even started yet, but the environment it created was already welcoming and enchanting.
The show starts with laughs right off the bat. The comedic revealing of the set and introduction of the performers let us know right off the bat that Potted Potter plays fast and loose with the Harry Potter lore. The set can be described as “minimalist” if we’re being generous… the Forbidden Forest is just a painted palm tree. But that just gives the performers and the audience more space to let their imagination spring to life (also the entire budget was spent on the dragon from book four). If the Harry Potter book series creates its magic through vivid world-building and interesting characters, Potted Potter utilizes the energy and chemistry of its two performers. Both play themselves playing Harry Potter characters. The first, James Percy, acts as the straight man, stick-in-the-mud, self-proclaimed “Harry Potter expert”. Naturally he takes the role of Harry for himself. The second, Delme Thomas, plays himself as an energetic goofball that hasn’t even read the books. He is given the roles of every other character from the seven Potter novels.
The format of the show is very sporadic. It’s divided into seven parts, one for each book, but there are also breaks in between for banter and a game of Quidditch. There’s a consistent improv feel beneath the written script. The actors often break out of whatever Potter character they’re playing to pause the book they’re in so they can quibble about inconsistencies or address the audience. If you sit down to watch Potted Potter expecting a straight-forward story, you might be disappointed. On the other hand, you could be pleasantly surprised!
The looseness of Potted Potter is what makes it great. Most major characters from the series pop up at one point or another, and the show displays a good amount of knowledge about the source material. Most of the major events are covered such as the Triwizard Tournament and certain character deaths. But the show also scatters in more modern references and casual jokes. At one point Voldemort performed “evil twerking”, and at another point both actors complained about the local snow. The combination of in-jokes and out-jokes create a unique experience for Potter fans, but also leave it accessible for everyone else to enjoy.
Perhaps the best part of the show is the interaction between the actors and the audience. Audience participation is encouraged throughout. We were told to yell answers to the stage and repeat prophecies and cheer at the right moments. There was also a Quidditch match where two children were brought on stage to be seekers and catch the golden snitch (which was actually James in a giant yellow ball suit). In order to catch the snitch, one of the young children grabbed him and violently threw him to the ground. It was adorable. (One actor quipped, “He’s behaving more like he’s in the Hunger Games.”)
Potted Potter is a fun and silly experience. Whether you’re a life-long Harry Potter fan or a regular muggle, whether you’re young or old, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. Go see it.
Prince Music Theater will be showing Potted Potter through January 5th with tickets ranging from $35-$85. Check out the PMT website for times, tickets and other info about showings.