James Percy and Joe Maudsley won’t go quite so far as to call themselves J.K. Rowling’s biggest fans, but they certainly rank among the top. Not surprising given the duo are the talent behind Potted Potter, the Harry Potter parody set to play Vancouver’s Vogue Theatre in December.
7 books in just 70 minutes
For the uninitiated the “potted” in the title has nothing to do with plants. You have to dig a little deeper to discover the meaning, which innocently enough refers to a summarized or abridged version.
In Potted Potter, playwrights Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner have condensed Rowling’s seven books into just 70 minutes. For those doing the math that translates to just ten minutes per volume. A massive undertaking for sure, but it is also half the fun.
“A lot of the comedy comes from watching these two guys trying to achieve a seemingly impossible task,” says Percy by Skype from their stop in Calgary. “It’s all very silly, and certainly not a straight telling of the books.”
“We skip a few corners,” admits Maudsley with a grin.
Fans in their own right
Being fans of the books and movies, long before landing their roles in Potted Potter, has helped ensure the authenticity of what they do on stage.
“We’re British, so it is in our blood,” says Percy.
“We grew up with the characters, and it is the only way the way this show works,” adds Maudsley. “If we weren’t having mad fun, it just wouldn’t work.”
Fun comes from a place of respect
While Potted Potter may be a wild journey through the wizarding world of Harry Potter, it does come from a place of respect for what Rowling has created.
“We consider ourselves J.K. Rowling ambassadors,” says Percy.
“We are such big fans, and this is a big celebration of the Potter universe that comes from a place of love,” says Maudsley.
“We consider ourselves J.K. Rowling ambassadors.” – James Percy
Ironically perhaps, given he wears glasses in real-life, Percy plays the role of Harry Potter in the show. Arguably a bigger challenge, Maudsley is left with the rest. Not having counted the exact number of characters he portrays, with some estimates putting it over 300, Maudsley does confess to having an affinity for Potter’s arch nemesis.
“I really enjoy Valdemort. He is such a misunderstood character. I think he just needs a cuddle and a kitten,” he says.
“It’s probably because I look a little like Daniel Radcliffe if you squint really hard, and Joe looks a little like Emma Watson,” says Percy of how the casting came about.
A deep well for research
A combination of scripted material and improvisation, the two use the books and movies as their guide.
“It is the best kind of homework you can ever get,” says Percy.
And while the two admit they don’t always get it right in the eyes of some Harry Potter fanatics, it only enhances the show’s humour.
“A lot of the comedy comes from the misunderstandings,” says Percy.
“We acknowledge the truth and it helps to show we’re really big fans ourselves,” adds Maudsley.
Along with the improvisation, Percy and Maudsley also go to great pains to acknowledge the legions of fans who come out to see Potted Potter, including involving a few in a game of quidditch.
“The audience becomes a third member of the cast,” says Maudsley.
“It is the only theatre show you can go along to and play a live game of quidditch,” says Percy. “And we’ve only lost two children in the history of doing the show.”
Saving a seat
Even as the two continue to play to packed houses around the world, audiences may notice a single empty seat.
“We always leave a seat for J.K. Rowling, just in case,” confirms Percy.
The idea of reserving a seat for Rowling came during the show’s original run at the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland. Legend has it Rowling was turned away at a sold out show by a box office attendant who did not recognize the author.
The holy trinity
While Rowling’s attendance at the show has still yet to be fully confirmed, others from the film franchise have, including Warwick Davis who played Professor Filius Flitwick and Griphook.
“We haven’t seen the big three yet though,” says Percy of Radcliffe, Watson and Grint.
“In my imagination they would come together wearing baseball caps and dark glasses,” says Maudsley.
With Vancouver’s booming film industry and just like in Harry Potter’s world, one supposes anything is within the realm of possibility.
Potted Potter – The Unauthorized Harry Experience – A Parody by Dan and Jeff plays the Vogue Theatre (918 Granville St, Vancouver) from December 13-24. Visit http://voguetheatre.ca for tickets and information.