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Potted pair lets the air out of wizardry

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The true magic of Potter Potter is how two British actors conjured an international franchise out of a silly spoof about the literary world's most famous boy wizard.

Billed as potting, or condensing, all seven Harry Potter books into a 70-minute romp, the touring stage import arrived in Winnipeg Wednesday evening as a goofy comedy routine that immediately lets the air out of any pompousness brought to Manitoba Theatre for Young People by serious Potheads.

The giggles start when Hogwarts, Harry's school of witchcraft and wizardry, is mistakenly represented by two plush warthogs. They never really stop.

London writer-performers Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner have fashioned a devilishly diverting routine in which the latter, the self-proclaimed Potter expert, is intent on presenting an authentic recap of the J.K. Rowling opus performed by 20 actors from the Stratford Festival. Dan, the taller one, hasn't read any of the books and undermines Jeff (who looks more like Elton John than Daniel Radcliffe) at every turn with improvised clowning and adolescent humour.

Jeff is adamant about playing the title role -- and to ensure everyone knows it, Dan pulls out a marker and scrawls H-A-R-R-Y on his partner's forehead.

Without the expected high-end cast and production values, Dan is required to portray all the other characters, always inaccurately, by switching hats, props or voices. Ron Weasley appears as a red-headed rapper, Hagrid sports an Afro wig and Hermione gets pigtails and a burly baritone. Judi Dench makes a cameo in a black beard for no apparent reason other than to make parents laugh. Potted Potter dares you not to laugh.

To relieve any mid-show restlessness among the younger spectators, scores of whom turned out in their wizard robes and round glasses, Clarkson and Turner strategically organize the audience-participation highlight: The Quidditch match. The house lights are turned up and the theatre is split into Gryffindor and Slytherin, rival factions of cheering wizards. When Dan bats a small beach ball into the audience, the game is on, but neither side came close to scoring -- and no youngster ever will when the goals are hung high on opposite sides of the theatre.

The two seekers, a girl and boy plucked from the crowd, were onstage when Jeff appeared as the snitch, a ridiculous vision in gold lamé with matching hard hat. The suddenly determined girl tackled Jeff impressively, earning a win for Slytherin and surely a phone call from the Bombers in need of promising talent.

Turner, outfitted in a black and white T-shirt inscribed with "Potter 1," may play the star wizard but his spells onstage are no match for Clarkson's goofy shtick. Much of the fun is the off-the-cuff retorts of the unpretentious Clarkson, who made the pre-show rounds, shaking hands of almost the entire audience.

The kids loved his often juvenile antics. After briefly gagging on some chocolate, which dripped onto the floor, he returned in the next scene and scooped it into his mouth, like any child who can't stand wasting good chocolate.

It is doubtful, however, that the kids understand the climactic scene in which Harry and Voldemort sing the late-'70s disco anthem I Will Survive with new lyrics. It looked like it was more fun for Dan and Jeff than for those who have long given up on the idea that Potted Potter has anything to do with bringing the books to life.

Theatre Review

Potted Potter

Manitoba Theatre for Young People

To Nov. 11

Tickets: $35 at 942-8898 or

Three a half stars out of five

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 9, 2012 D8

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