In 2006, English actor Dan Clarkson was asked by a public relations company if he could work up an act to entertain the hordes of Harry Potter fans expected to line up for hours on a London street for the midnight launch of the sixth book, Harry Potter and the Half-Breed Prince.
His immediate idea was to condense the first five J.K. Rowling novels about the boy wizard into an entertaining five minutes. When Clarkson spied Jeff Turner busking in Covent Gardens he thought that, in the right light and eyeglasses, he could pass for Daniel Radcliffe, the star of the Potter movie adaptations.
The pair were paid £300 each to put together a five-minute parody and perform it at 10 p.m., 11 p.m. and midnight for those who couldn't wait until morning to get their hands on the latest Harry Potter exploit.
The audience reception was so enthusiastic that Clarkson and Turner expanded the piece to an hour and entered the Edinburgh Festival, playing in a 60-seat former church hall. Any poster sporting the Harry Potter name draws a curious crowd and their show, now called Potted Potter, sold out.
A U.K. tour followed, as did an invitation to play London's West End, a surprise 2012 Olivier award nomination for best entertainment or family show, and runs in Toronto and New York. They estimate they've performed the show 1,300 times for over one million people.
Clarkson, 33, and Turner, 32, are back in North America for a run of Potted Potter -- now an expanded 70 minutes -- at Manitoba Theatre for Young People.
The Free Press caught up to the British actors earlier this week and asked them these questions:
FP: What was it like trying to choose what to keep from the seven books for Potted Potter?
Clarkson: It was a lot of arguments with Jeff and me shouting at each other about which scene was more important. And then because I'm much taller than Jeff, I would just push him out of the way and do what I wanted. The original script could have been all seven books in seven days, we had so much material. But we would chuck out 500 pages just for the chance to wear a silly hat or do a funny voice.
FP: Who is the audience for Potted Potter?
Clarkson: We thought it would be a family audience because that's who the books were originally aimed at. There was one show we did in New York where we had an eight-year-old's birthday party, and in the row in front of them was a bachelorette party and they were all dressed up as wizards.
FP: Your show is subtitled The Unauthorized Harry Experience. Did you try to have it authorized?
Clarkson: For us, being unauthorized gives us more permission and scope. We are not restricted by any boundaries, so we can say whatever we like. J.K. Rowling's people have seen our show and we make sure that we respect the property. As two actors, we hope that when Warner Brothers phone, they are not trying to sue us but offer us a job.
FP: Has Daniel Radcliffe seen the show?
Turner: No, but we've had a few people from the movies see it. A few years back (the three-foot, six-inch tall) Warwick Davis, who played Professor Flitwick, came to see the show. We were told he was in the audience but we don't have Flitwick in our show. Dan came out on his knees as Flitwick because it was the only gag we could think of. We stopped the show, asked him what he thought (about the portrayal) and he yelled, "Too tall."
FP: What about J.K. Rowling?
Turner: There is an urban legend that she was turned away from our show.We sold out at the Edinburgh Festival and after the last show this 18- or 19-year-old girl came to us in tears. She said a lady came to buy a ticket and was told we were full. Others saw the lady and thought it was J.K. Rowling. Because of that, we have one seat that is never sold wherever we go in the world in case she ever turns up again. Once is careless, twice would be unforgivable.
FP: Did you foresee the success of Potted Potter?
Clarkson: Every day me and Jeff are pinching ourselves, worried that someone is going to realize we're just good friends messing around onstage and Immigration is going to deport us back home. It's amazing to make a living dressing up as wizards.
Dan Clarkson: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
Jeff Turner: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
DC: Voldemort, because I really think he's misunderstood. If you think you are the greatest wizard who ever lived and an 11-year-old is defeating you at every turn, it is going to bruise your ego.
JT: Harry Potter, because it's very difficult for me not to say Harry after playing him 1,300 times.
DC: The graveyard scene where Harry encounters Voldemort and Cedric Diggory dies. I think that's where the books take a darker turn.
JT:The very first time that Harry finds out that he's a wizard. That's what the books are all about.
Manitoba Theatre for Young People
óè To Nov. 11
óè Tickets: $35