How do you condense all seven Harry Potter books (and a real-life game of Quidditch) into 70 minutes on stage? Short of using a Reducio charm—that’s a shrinking spell for all you Muggles out there—you do it with Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Experience, now appearing at the Hobby Center this month.
Wildly popular with Harry Potter fans all over the globe, the fast-paced, irreverent production is the brainchild of Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner. Back in 2005, Clarkson was asked by bookstores if he’d come up with an act or some other entertainment and for the store’s midnight release of the latest Harry Potter book. The actor and writer enlisted his friend Turner, also an actor, to help with the gig.
“Daniel had the idea of telling the story of the first five books in five minutes,” Turner says. “And I thought, a day’s work, a little money, I’m happy to join in. And then we turned up at the bookstore and there were 1,200 people there. It was ridiculous, complete madness.”
From that midnight launch, the duo took their midnight release show on the road to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, by which time they’d expanded it to tell the story of the first six books in 60 minutes. It was so well-liked, the pair wound up getting booked for Potted Potter performances around their native United Kingdom. And then, as sometimes happens in show business, the thing took on a life of its own.
“It really blew up in 2011,” Turner says, “and we went to Toronto with it in 2012.”
Today, three companies perform the show around the world. While the obvious audience are fans of the books and the movies, Turner said it’s a crowd pleaser for everyone. One of the things he especially enjoys is encountering fans who say they read the books as children themselves and now they are sharing them—and the Potted Potter performance—with their own children.
Turner emphasizes that the show isn’t trying to replace (or even fully replicate) J.K. Rowling’s masterwork. But they are happy to have a little fun with the series, blending a linear story with some vaudeville antics. The show has recently been updated with a refreshed set design, upgraded illusions, and hilarious insights into the wonderful world of all thing Hogwarts.
Turner and Clarkson wrote a show that includes favorite characters, a special appearance from a fire-breathing dragon, endless costumes, jokes, brilliant songs, ridiculous props, and a generous helping of Hogwarts magic. The cast in Houston will be Scott Hoatson and Brendan Murphy. Both have appeared in television and theater in the U.K.
“They’re disgustingly talented,” Turner says. “And they allow me and Daniel to performing this in other places—or just to get some rest. I mean, we can’t be everywhere. Scott’s a TV star and Brandon is one of the single best improv comedy actors I’ve ever worked with.”
Turner might quip about the show that changed his life, but he realizes what a touchtone it’s been for a generation of readers and filmgoers. Rowling’s magical realm transformed children’s literature, and garnered readers of all ages, who’ve followed the exploits of Harry and his friends. By turns funny and dark, Harry’s hero’s journey is one for the annals of storytelling.
More than all that, however, Turner and Clarkson have tremendous respect for J.K. Rowling, and they care quite a bit what she thinks about how they’ve manhandled her creation.
“We were at a fundraiser and our manager introduced us. ‘Jo, this is Dan and Jeff.’ “Oh, the Potted Potter boys!’ she said. And well, that was it. We can go home now. J.K. Rowling knows who we are.”
Dec. 11–Jan. 9. Tickets $49.99. The Hobby Center, 800 Bagby St. 713-315-2525. More info and tickets at thehobbycenter.org.