By: Angela Guardiani
I like reviewing shows and doing a deep dive into the symbolism of sets and props, the nuances of language and the layers of a performance. I like getting tangled up in the author’s intentions and how that plays out in the process from page to stage. I like the depth, in other words; it’s the complexity of a theatrical piece or a work of art that gets to me.
Every once in a while, however, something comes along that is simple, uncomplicated, and absolutely perfect that way. That’s Potted Potter, a rather twee-named show that promises to recap all seven Harry Potter books in seventy hilarious minutes. Spoiler alert - the show is seventy minutes, and it’s hilarious. It delivers exactly what it promises, no more, no less, with a joyous exuberance that’s completely lacking in snideness or cynicism. It’s already one of my favourites of the year.
The show’s quite simple, as you might have guessed from the description, but it’s full of magical (ha!) touches that contribute to a really immersive experience. I could sense some resistance from the adults in the audience, a feeling of “really? I’m expected to enjoy a kid’s show? I’m just here to chaperone!” But when your theatre program is a scroll instead of a booklet, when the original music is just enough like the Harry Potter franchise music to be familiar and just different enough to be interesting, when one performer (Scott Hoatson) is sitting quietly on stage at a desk, studiously reading the Harry Potter books as you enter, and the second (Joe Maudsley) roams around the floor making cheerful small talk with the audience, even the most sophisticated grown-up feels a childlike sense of fun.
Scott and Joe (and on alternate shows, performers Brendan Murphy and James Percy) carry the show. So much of the show’s buoyant energy comes from the dynamic between them - Scott is the detail-fixated fan who claims a close personal relationship with J.K. Rowling and treats the books with a reverence usually reserved for holy texts, while Joe is the free-wheeling free-styling maverick who takes nothing seriously. Scott frets that he hasn’t introduced a character with the gravitas that benefits his position, while Joe cheekily plays Hermione with the line “I’m off to the UN to talk about the women!” (a nod to Emma Watson’s role as Goodwill Ambassador). Scott proudly announces that the show has hired actors from Stratford to represent the characters with the depth they deserve - Joe shamefacedly admits that he blew the budget on special effects. “You’ve never read the books?” Scott asks Joe incredulously. He immediately sets Joe the task of reading all of the final 600-page Harry Potter book during the course of the show - and Joe’s response is to distract the audience by bellowing, “Who wants to play Quidditch?!”
Of course we want to play Quidditch! Scott’s quibbles that we can’t play Quidditch without broomsticks are swept aside (ha!) by Joe’s enthusiasm into truly the most all-inclusive bit of audience participation I’ve ever seen! The performers tap into some primal competitive streak as the audience wildly bats a beach ball around the house. We become part of the show in an organic way, cheered on by the performers, and any adult reserve left disappears into a warm and fuzzy feeling of pure, uncomplicated enjoyment.
Potted Potter is delightful if you’re familiar with the franchise and just as delightful if you’re not. Kids will love it (I’d say about 8 years old and up), adults will find their inner child taking the wheel like Ron and Harry taking over the Weasley’s flying Ford Anglia. Skip the complexity this time around and enjoy the fun.
Photo by Dahlia Katz.