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'Potted Potter': A chat with the stars

Scenes from Potted Potter starring Daniel Clarkson and

Scenes from Potted Potter starring Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner. (2012) Credit: Carol Rosegg

It seems impossible: condense all seven Harry Potter books into a 70-minute show. But the British comedy duo of Jefferson Turner and Daniel Clarkson take on the challenge, with Turner playing Potter and Clarkson playing everyone else from Voldemort to Dobby the House Elf. The slapstick parody, as the promotions promise, is appropriate for ages "6 to Dumbledore (who is very old indeed)."

Turner and Clarkson spoke to Newsday about the show:

Why is it called "Potted Potter"?

Turner: In the U.K., potted is another word for condensed, shortened. We thought, nice bit of alliteration, calling it "Potted Potter."

Why are there only two of you in the show?

Turner: We want it to look like two clueless British guys who don't really know what they're doing managing to get away with loving Harry Potter and telling everyone about it.

What is your favorite part of the show?

Clarkson: I very much like the Quidditch.. My favorite thing is improvisation, comedy acting. I think with Quidditch, every day going into that, I still get a buzz. I don't know how the audience is going to react, just having fun with the audience, having fun with the kids onstage. The show can go on another 10 minutes just because of something one person said.

Turner: I love the Magic Off, when Harry and Voldemort are doing their magic tricks for each other. I love that because of how bad the tricks are. Voldemort's sort of vaudeville magic act that would be embarrassing for anyone to actually be performing.

How did you come up with the idea of condensing the books?

Clarkson: It was for the launch of the sixth book, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." A friend of mine who worked in PR came to me because at the time I was doing a lot of comedy. Two book stores in London, one of them had owls bringing the books at midnight, and they wanted something to sort of rival this, and so we came up with the idea of doing all five books in five minutes as this publicity stunt. I sort of vaguely knew Jeff, and I thought, "If you squint and sort of look the other way, he kind of looks like Harry Potter." I brought him in to play Harry Potter. I thought I would play everyone else because I was that kind of egotistical actor. The rest is history. We did it that night to a thousand screaming Harry Potter fans and I thought, "Wow, we're onto something here." It's sort of gone from there.

If you haven't seen Harry Potter, what do you need to know for this show?

Turner: We do try very hard to put stuff in the show that isn't just for Harry Potter fans. We try to put some popular culture references in ["The Chronicles of Narnia," Bob the Builder, Run DMC]. If you know nothing about Harry Potter, you can not only enjoy yourself, you might even learn a thing or two, and you don't have to read all those books. It's kind of like Harry Potter 101. Of course, if you absolutely hate Harry Potter and everything it stands for, it's possible this isn't the show for you.

Which book was the hardest to condense?

Turner: Book 5 ["Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix"]. So much happens in it. I imagine that's Dan's least favorite book, because it's probably the one he gets sweatiest in, because he's playing an awful lot of characters in that one.

You guys seemed to be having so much fun. I thought it was a "no-no" to break character, but there were several times when you guys just couldn't stop yourselves from laughing.

Clarkson: . . . we're known as trying to take a wrecking ball to the fourth wall, absolutely obliterate it and let the audience almost become part of the show with us.

Turner: We've done this show more than 1,000 times over the past six years. One of Dan's favorite pastimes is trying to make me laugh onstage, and that's great for me because I don't quite know what he's going to do next.

Have you met J.K. Rowling? Or has she commented on this?

Turner: There's a story about this. In 2006, when we first took "Potted Potter" to the Edinburgh Comedy Festival, we were playing a 65-seat venue, and we sold out before we got there. After one show, a young box-office girl, must be about 18 or 19, came forward with her manager behind her saying, "Tell them what you did." It turns out she may have turned J.K. Rowling away because we were sold out. She didn't recognize her. Her box-office manager was coming back from lunch, walked past her and said, "Was that J.K. Rowling?" and the girl just sort of went, "Oh, oh, I really hope not." We now say every single show we do there is one seat that is not on sale if she ever wants to turn up. We are not making that mistake again.

Clarkson: I think I'd be terrified if I saw her sitting in my front row. Just because of the legend she is and the love I have for the books. To suddenly see the creator sitting there, I'd probably want to stop the show, just get her to sign the books, and everyone to chat with her. I think that would be amazing. I've got enough questions to fill 70 minutes with her. Her team does know we exist, and some of her team [members] have seen the show. They are sort of allowing us to go with it, and we're very grateful to them.

Why haven't you been to the United States before? You've been doing this for years. We love Harry Potter, too.

Clarkson: We started off in Britain, that was our home. Then, it built up. We are thrilled to be here.

Turner: This is my first time in the States at all, so I'm very much like a country mouse lost in the big city, walking around staring at everything with wide eyes. I can't believe how big your burgers are -- it's amazing. The fact we're in New York, certainly for us and I think practically every stage actor in the U.K., that's the pinnacle. That's where you want to be.

Do you think there's still enough interest in Harry Potter to make this successful?

Clarkson: I think the first books are almost like 15 years old now. A lot of people are starting families themselves and starting to read these books to their kids. I think it's a long way from over. I think Potter will far outlive all of us.

WHAT "Potted Potter The Unauthorized Harry Experience"

WHEN | WHERE Through Aug. 12, Little Shubert Theatre, 422 W. 42nd St., Manhattan

INFO $39.75 to $69.75; 212-239-6200, pottedpotter.com

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