There was an alarming moment when my 14-year-old son and I entered the foyer of the Trafalgar Studios only to find the place bursting at the seams with tiny tots with ages ranging from five to eight.
I’d persuaded Edward to come to Potted Potter on the basis that this was going to be a devastating parody of JK Rowling’s books, and that it would be mocking, sophisticated and clever. In fact it, looked as though we were going to be in for the theatrical equivalent of Jackanory. Edward assumed that martyred look of the self-conscious teenager with an unreliable parent. Forty years earlier, I would have adopted an identical expression myself.
But, in fact, the show turns out to be a bit of a blast. The two performers Dan and Jeff are a classic double act, with Jefferson Turner playing the Ernie Wise role of the perennially hopeful yet permanently aggrieved straight man, while Daniel Clarkson adopts the Eric Morecambe persona of the dotty surrealist who knows exactly how to wind his partner up.
Initially, I found Dan’s wild-eyed, manic manner and constant shouting a touch fatiguing, but surprised myself by greatly warming to him as the show progressed.
What’s remarkable about Potted Potter is that it genuinely seems to appeal to audiences of all ages, as Dan and Jeff attempt to race through all seven Harry Potter books in just one hour.
After a slightly tedious opening, in which Jeff berates Dan for not securing the props, sets and actors he’d demanded, the duo get cracking on the books. Plump and amiable, Jeff plays the boy wizard, and Dan plays all the other roles, heroically undeterred by the fact that he seems to have only the most distant acquaintance with Rowling’s epic oeuvre.
The pair whip up an atmosphere of crazy delirium with glove-puppet monsters, enjoyably awful jokes, quick changes, silly accents and frenzied slapstick. And the audience participation proves riotous, especially in a frenzied game of Quidditch, in which poor Jeff finds himself absurdly dressed up as the golden snitch and the adults in the audience behave even worse than the kids when it comes to gaining possession of the Quaffle.
As someone who gave up on the Potter books (along with my wife and son) when faced with the dauntingly long fourth instalment, deciding that life was too short for quite so much turgid prose and repetitive plotting, the irreverence of this show comes as a blessed relief. And while adults can enjoy seeing JK Rowling’s disappointingly ponderous and po-faced fiction so gleefully sent up, the tinies are manifestly, and audibly, getting a real buzz out of the sheer anarchy of it all.
It will be a some time before I forget mild-mannered Jeff suddenly cracking and complaining about just how boring the character of Harry Potter actually is, even longer before the spectacle of Dan as Dumbledore, “the only wizard in the village”, fades from the memory as he sings the great gay anthem I Am What I Am. Listen out, too, for Voldemort’s version of the disco classic I Will Survive.
For those looking for an alternative to pantomime which will tickle the funny bone of every age group, this bonkers and blessedly brief show is just the ticket.
Charles Spencer, Daily Telegraph