Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Experience, A Parody by Dan and Jeff
September 1, 2012, 230 pm performance
I felt like Countess Ellen Olenska in my little section at the loge. I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. Scorsese.
So, was Potted Potter, the theatrical extravaganza for serious Potterheads, the much ballyhooed, highly anticipated act for hardcore Potter fans, all that it’s cracked up to be?
Let’s put it this way: if we use my facial muscles as the gauge for assessing the show’s fabulous, hilarious success, I would say, and without batting my wand, yes!
Severus and Charmaine before the show.
My muscles (both facial and stomach) were put to the test from laughing too hard, and laughing too much.
Oh it’s not your usual play broken into several acts. Well, if you consider each book in the septology as an act, then okay, that can serve as some kind of structure for the entire show. It’s really more of “the best of Harry Potter—-RETOLD!” and not in a straightforward manner even. The retelling, naturally, was chronological as per the narrative in the books, but there were several interludes in between “acts”, spiels that really had no bearing on the narrative they were trying to tell the audience, but necessary given the demands of comedy.
Yes, it was more a stand-up comedy than your regular play (Aristotelian structure be damned). And what a stand-up show it was!
You only have two actors (Jesse Briton and Gary Trainor) onstage for the entire duration of the show (70 minutes, so that’s give or take 10 minutes per book) giving life to a whole lot of HP characters we are all familiar with, to wit, Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, Ron Weasley (and the rest of the ginger family, oh yes!), Albus Dumbledore, Severus Snape, Lord Voldemort, Rubeus Hagrid, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, Draco Malfoy, and an assortment of magical creatures like Dobby the House-elf, the Basilisk (oh ha, ha, ha. Look, a green stuffed snake for a serpent!), the Hungarian Horntail (“it breathes fire!!!—-Jess), and Nagini (a red stuffed snake this time to accompany the Dark Lord).
It was a laugh-a-minute production, I swear. No, scratch that. It was more like laugh-every-15-seconds! Production-wise, there was not much to gawk at. The stage only had a coffin (no functional purpose in the narrative, save for its initial comic effect resulting from its lack of HP connection), the Forbidden Forest (which, according to Gary looked a lot like Boracay), and as centerpiece, the wardrobe from Narnia (open it and you have a ready white screen for the projected images), but no matter. You get your money’s worth not from the props but from the actors. They are the props. They make the show work. And work well, it did.
Similar to most shows and concerts that go on the road, there was an attempt to localize the humor. I’ve already mentioned the Boracay quip, yes. There was also a line from Jesse about him going all emo and will just listen to the Eraserheads as he went behind the wardrobe to change his props. There was a mention of Ateneo as well that got some strange jeers from the audience. I didn’t really catch what it was so I let it go.
There were also some remnants of British humor, I guess, that didn’t translate well with the audience. The occasional un-PC (politically correct) remarks of Hagrid didn’t really hit a homerun, as I’m sure it did back in the U.K. Hagrid was presented as a Scottish oaf for the most part, but it was only the Shrek mention and Hagrid’s “donkeh” retort that worked with the audience effectively. I’m guessing the age-old tension between the English and the Scottish would’ve played a significant contribution reaction-wise to the characterization, but since Filipinos are not too well-invested with the tension, the humor just sort of passed us by.
Another humor that sort of fell flat was Gary’s constant dig at teachers. I think he mentioned two teacher jokes, and the 2nd time he did, a significant part of the audience made their sentiment known with the usual exclamation of disapproval (a really polite boo, if you can call it that). Gary himself replied with, “I totally misjudged that” (referring to his joke) to which Jesse said, “I guess teachers are admired here in Manila.”
That aside, I enjoyed the whole performance. The Quidditch match among the audience members was probably the highlight of the entire show. It’s just too bad one of the volunteers Jesse picked (some girl wearing a Gryffindor robe) was just too dull, too boring for words. I mean, gosh, her team won the match and when Jesse asked her what prize she wanted all she did was shrug her shoulders. When Jesse asked her if she wanted a chocolate frog, she shrugged her little shoulders yet again. I tell you, if that person had been my student, I would’ve disowned her. If she were a member of Hogwarts Philippines, I would’ve sent her to Mr. Filch for detention. She was that borrrrring. To spite her, Jesse went to the audience and gave the chocolate frog to the boring girl’s little cousin. “No prize for you!” cried Jesse.
I must say the way they handled the narration was just how I would’ve wanted it done. Meaning, they really were able to capture what each book is about. It didn’t matter that a lot of narrative material was scrapped. They were still able to pick out the juiciest parts per book. Sorcerer’s Stone highlighted its nature as the maiden novel, hence, lots of introductory characters, plus yes, the battle for the Stone. Chamber of Secrets was all about Dobby and the Basilisk. In Prisoner of Azkaban (they actually said it’s the book that is arguably the most admired and well written of the series) they actually opted for a lecture! Complete with a Powerpoint presentation about Rowling’s sleight of hand, as a master deceiver with the way she handles both plot and character (I do this lecture in Muggle school, too). Goblet of Fire was all about the Three Tasks (and Quidditch!) and the Dark Lord’s Resurrection. Order of the Phoenix highlighted what we all already knew even before we’ve read the blasted book, “one of you shall live, one of you shall die!” (repeat until you die; the redundancy underscores the book’s unnecessary heft) Half-Blood Prince was all about Dumbledore’s death and Snape’s true character (“I’m a bad guy!. . . .or am I?”). Finally, Deathly Hallows was all about camping and deaths, split in two (hahahaha!). They ended by filking my most favorite videoke song (Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Surive”) complete with a disco ball, and I must say there is no other way to end the show than with that one.
Snape and the Slytherins (with apologies to Dave Barry, that’s a cool name for a rock band)—Kay Arellano and Eonee Cordero. Photo courtesy of Charmaine.
In all, every Muggle centavo spent was worth it. I’m certain even non-HP fans would enjoy this show, if only for the frenetic energy of the actors and the witty dialogue courtesy of the writers.
Would I watch it again in some other setting, in some other time? You can bet your Nimbus vacuum cleaner on it.