It takes some kind of wizardry to make a theater full of people snort and whoop with laughter for 75 minutes.
In the case of “Potted Potter,” the laughing people are under no magic spell, nor does anyone slip them a potion. It’s just the anarchic influence of British improv comics Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner, whose Harry Potter spoof “Potted Potter” has apparated into Sidney Harman Hall, where it will remain through Sunday.
Wielding various rubbery props, Clarkson and Turner do to J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” books and the films what the Reduced Shakespeare Company — a frequent visitor to Washington in past seasons — does to the Bard, the Bible and American history. Basically, they drive a truck through their subject, leaving just enough recognizable rubble to amuse purists and not-so-purists alike.
The title “Potted Potter,”, by the way, doesn’t mean satirizing while under the influence. A playbill note explains that “potting” is a British term for “the art of summarizing something into a digestible form, and is intoxicating only in a funny, family-friendly way.”
“Potted Potter” began life in 2005 as a bit of street theater, then expanded and evolved into its current silliness. It has played London’s West End and toured to Australia, New Zealand and Canada, and more than once landed off-Broadway. Actors James Percy and Delme Thomas step in for writer/performers Clarkson and Turner at nearly half the shows.
Clarkson and Turner work Laurel-and-Hardy style, but in jeans and T-shirts instead of bowler hats and cutaway coats. Clarkson plays the tall, gangly twit who admits he hasn’t actually read any of the Harry Potter books. Turner plays the slight, serious Potter fanatic, panicked by his colleague’s lack of preparation.
Where are the elaborate sets and props they’d planned? Turner asks in consternation. And what about all the other actors? Not to worry, Clarkson assures him, explaining that he blew their entire budget on a fabulous flying dragon for Book 4 (“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”). There are no other actors or fancy sets. They’ll just have to improvise. A toy train engine nothing like the magical Hogwarts Express, a writing desk, a hat stand, and three mystery bits draped in fabric appear onstage with them.
In their wacko distillation of all seven books, Turner opts to play Harry Potter with specs on his nose and “HARRY” written in all caps on his forehead instead of a lightning-bolt scar. Clarkson plays everyone else, although he’s so lacking in knowledge that he drops in references to “The Chronicles of Narnia,” “The Hobbit” and “Star Wars” to fill the gaps. When Turner mentions Dumbledore, Clarkson asks innocently, “Is he important?”
It would spoil things to reveal too much about the much-heralded flying dragon, or the Quidditch match, or the soggy chocolate cake, or the couple of kids brought onstage. But it’s too delicious not to note that early in the show, Clarkson presents Turner with a pair of plush-toy warthogs strapped to a skateboard — not the Hogwarts Express, just the Warthogs Regional.
The show’s finale, set to an old disco hit, may be the only off note. It’s just not as clever as what comes before and ends abruptly.
So how much Potternalia do you need in your brain to enjoy “Potted Potter”? Some familiarity with Harry, Hermione, Ron, Dumbledore, Hagrid, Snape, Voldemort, et al., will come in handy, of course. But the show skip-ropes its way through Harry’s world. It sparks much more off the antics of two loose-limbed rascals in an array of bad wigs.
Horwitz is a freelance writer.
written and performed by Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner. Alternate performers: James Percy and Delme Thomas. Directed by Richard Hurst. Set design, Simon Scullion; lighting Tim Mascall; music, Phil Innes. About 75 minutes. Presented as a Shakespeare Theatre Company special event at Sidney Harman Hall through Sunday. Call 202-547-1122 or visit www.shakespearetheatre.org.