Review by Lily Stokes
After 15 years of sell-out touring, Potted Potter has returned to Sydney by “magical demand” for a fifth season. Gracing the stage of the Seymour Centre’s Everest Theatre, this 70 minute fanatical nugget takes on the ultimate challenge of condensing all seven Harry Potter books (and a real game of Quidditch) into a mere hour and ten minute performance. Having visited Australia in 2012, 2014, 2018 and 2019, Potted Potter’s most recent iteration integrates new material into the original script, keeping it ~fresh~ for the young whipper-snapper Potterheads who still manage to obsess over the books 25 years after their release.
Show creators Daniel Clarkson and Jeff Turner guide the audience through the seven Potter books, helped by the talent of Adam Brown and Tama Farman. With slapstick, toilet humour and crowd participation, the audience is hypnotised into jumping, shouting and cheering in the theatre. The production as a whole is silly, endearing and harmless - admittedly, to its own detriment. Like myself, I suspect that the 20-something Potterhead audience were probably expecting that Potted Potter would transform “the boy who lived” into a hilarious Australiasian parody, having grown up with other legendary Potter satires like A Very Potter Musical and Harry Potter Puppet Pals (not to mention countless fan-fics and fandom in-jokes). Unfortunately, Potted Potter really fell short of the mark. Described as a “stupendously silly night out”, this was really all it was. In fact, it felt like it should have been marketed as children’s entertainment rather than a parody or even pantomime. If I were 20 years younger, I’m sure I would have been thrilled by the repetition, bright lights and funny voices. Unfortunately, the thrills of said “silliness” were lost on this jaded Potter fan. (Am I so out of touch? No, it’s the children who are wrong.)
The elements of this production were rudimentary, which I understand was sort of the point (considering it is presented as a dopey recreation by two amateurs). However, the contrast between reality and the enactment of the books needed far more definition, and the lights, sound and smoke machines at the production’s disposal could have helped to create this illusion. Usually these downfalls could be excused by remarkable character performances - however, the double act dynamic was often confused between Brown and Farman. They switched between playing the stooge and the comic, muddying the waters and destroying any hope of giggle-worthy Bert and Ernie realness. Furthermore, I was really hoping there’d be more transformation between characters in body language, voice, expression and dialogue, but unfortunately it was really only ever the addition of a prop or costume. I feel that more assertive and clarified direction from Richard Hurst could have elevated the performances on stage, and helped to realise the comedic gold that lay idle in the dialogue. It’s worth noting that there were definitely some elements of Monty-Pythonesque humour at play (particularly in an animation depicting book three), but this was short lived and didn’t quite land with an in-between audience.
Even if Potted Potter were to be (correctly) classified as children’s entertainment, the best kid shows carefully exploit the oblivious space held in double entendres. Parents and their children can laugh at the same gag, despite having vastly different ideas of what it is that is funny. Unfortunately, I felt as if Potted Potter missed an opportunity to create such a scathing subtext for the adult majority of the audience, with only a very small percentage of their jokes landing for the few children watching.
Although this review is extremely harsh and probably expects too much from a bit of innocent fun, I do think that charging $60-$80 for this production is a little bit steep. However, if you’re a young family looking for a fun and engaging night out for the kids, this is probably a show for you. Unfortunately, it just didn’t ring a bell with me.