Wednesday, February 15, 2012
15 FEB 2012
Pictured: Jefferson Turner, Daniel Clarkson
TORONTO - In the end, it’s a show that owes more to comedic duos like Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy and even The Two Ronnies than it does to J.K. Rowling or even her youthful hero, Harry Potter.
Because, in the end, if one were to judge POTTED POTTER: THE UNAUTHORIZED POTTER EXPERIENCE as any sort of conventional précis of Rowling’s literary output, it would be lucky to achieve a passing grade from any but the most indulgent teacher of English Lit. But, rest assured, it would crack up the class in the process. POTTED POTTER opened in an already extended run Tuesday at the Panasonic Theatre, where it is currently slated to run through March 25.
It is the brainchild of two young British blokes — Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner — who have somehow managed to hitch their wagon to the young wizard’s wand and conjure up an international franchise of sorts, for while POTTED POTTER marks their Canadian première, they’ve already scored big in their homeland with Potted Pirates and the Olivier-nominated Potted Panto, in addition to this show (which has apparently toured to Australia and points east in 2009.)
It’s an impressive track record for everybody but Harry, it seems, for even the kids in Tuesday’s opening audience quickly figured out that the fun of this show does not grow so much from this duo’s ability to distill the essence of Harry Potter — all seven books in 70 minutes, they claim— as it does from their ability to ride the giddy waves of their own creativity.
In the grand tradition of comedic duos, there is a straight man — in this case, the more earnest and compact Turner, who for most of the show essays the role of Potter — and a cut-up — the lanky, loopy Clarkson, who will, we are told at the top of the show, essay the other 300-odd characters the seven books reveal. And while he doesn’t even come close to that number, he achieves such heights of silliness and charm with the ones he does tackle that you’re likely to lose count along about the time the evil Voldemort makes his second appearance.
While Clarkson cuts up and cracks wise, the hapless and earnest Turner tries — but not too mightily — to keep things on track and cleave to the Potter plotlines, a task that is ultimately accomplished, at least in the broadest sense of the word, with the aid of everything from flow charts to faux hip-hop. And when the action flags, as it inevitably must in these kinds of silly-bugger, jolly-hockey-sticks Fringe works, Clarkson always has the answer — and that answer is always a rousing game of quidditch, which will eventually have the entire theatre eating out of his hand, while it gives Turner a chance to demonstrate his comedic chops, as well.
With two such natural talents on his hands, director Richard Hunt hasn’t exactly shot his budget on sets (designed, such as they are, by Simon Scullion) and effects — a fact of which as much is made throughout the show as any of Rowling’s increasingly predictable plot points.
Instead, he gives his two talented performers more or less free reign, within what one suspects is some pretty rigid and family-friendly confines, and sets them loose. And if, as on opening night, things start to go wrong with everything from chocolate to sound equipment, well, so much the better. These guys have obviously been performing together and performing well for so long that such technical difficulties represent nothing more than good comedic meat into which they can sink their teeth. And, in its current state, POTTED POTTER promises to keep them dining out for quite awhile.