The last Harry Potter book has come and gone, the movies are all finished, but Pottermania lives on.
Daniel Clarkson and Jeff Turner have brought their parody Potted Potter to Toronto following a successful run on London’s West End.
The two British actors sat down with The Globe to talk about the show, playing Quidditch on stage and why Potter fans like to laugh at themselves.
Have you ever heard from Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling about the show?
Turner: The very first Edinburgh Festival we did, in 2006, it sold out quickly. And there’s a story that near the end of one of the shows a young girl was brought up with her box-office manager behind her saying, “Go on, tell them what you did.” And the girl said, “It was full and this lady wanted to see the show, and I told her it was full and she left.” And the box-office manager said, “Yeah, and as I walked in I saw J.K. Rowling walking out of the building.” Ever since that day we keep one seat up for sale anywhere we are in the world in case she shows up.
How did the show come about?
Clarkson: The fifth Harry Potter book was coming out. There are, like, two major London bookstores. Someone from one of them came and said they wanted to do something better than their neighbours across the street. The neighbours had an owl flying in. I said, “Okay, you’ve got five books. Maybe we could do five books in five minutes.” We ended up doing a 20-minute sketch.
Turner: We went to this bookshop at midnight. There were about 800 people. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. We took it to the Edinburgh Festival that year and everyone loved it.
Were both of you big Harry Potter fans?
Clarkson: When the fourth book came out I was queuing myself with all the fans dressed as a wizard. I was swept up in Pottermania. When the first book came out I read it to my brother, who is 10 years younger than me. He’d fall asleep and I’d carry on reading. I was hooked.
Turner: I think that’s why the shows do so well, because of the age range of people who love Harry Potter. You can have a six-year-old who loves Harry Potter and a 40-year-old woman who loves Harry Potter.
Are you ever surprised at some of the audience members at the show?
Turner: When we were in the West End we had this lovely group of 10 American women who had come out on a Harry Potter holiday and we were one of the stops on it.
Clarkson: They were lovely. They had their [Hogwarts]houses tattooed on their arms, which scared me. This woman came up and said, “I’m Gryffindor,” and rolls up her sleeve and shows me.
Potter fans can be deeply loyal to the material. Has anyone ever criticized you for making light of the mythology?
Clarkson: We are fans ourselves, and we say it’s very much a loving parody. We’re in no way trying to send these books up. I think they see that very early on and then there’s a lot of fun to be had.
Turner: If you love something, if you’re fanatical about something, you quite enjoy having fun poked at it and fun poked at yourself.
How do you condense seven books into 70 minutes?
Clarkson: I think our first draft of the show could have gone on for seven days. There’s so much you want to get in. I think we do say in the show we get rid of 400 pages of plot just to put a silly hat in.
Turner: When we first started doing it, Dan was explaining to me what the books were about. And as he hadn’t read the first book in three or four years by then he could only remember key points, so that was a really nice way for us to know what was important in the book.
Tell me about the Quidditch matches in the show.
Clarkson: If you want to play Quidditch and you’re in the audience, everyone gets a chance to play.
Turner: It’s a sight to be beheld. Because you might have the dad who’s never read Harry Potter. When Quidditch happens it’s suddenly the greatest sporting moment of their life. We’ve seen fathers kind of push their kids out of the way to get the ball. It’s good fun for us to watch.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Experience runs at Toronto’s Panasonic Theatre until March 25 (mirvish.com).