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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 14 November 2018

Potted Potter: the show that magically condenses all seven Harry Potter novels into 70 madcap minutes

Watch two actors tell the entire Harry Potter tale in 70 minutes at Ductac Dubai. Potted Potter - The Unauthorised Harry Experience includes dragons and a boisterous game of Quidditch.
Daniel Clarkson, left, and Jefferson Turner are the creators of Potted Potter – The Unauthorised Harry Experience. Geraint Lewis
Daniel Clarkson, left, and Jefferson Turner are the creators of Potted Potter – The Unauthorised Harry Experience. Geraint Lewis

Arriving in Dubai all the way from London is a play that turns the Harry Potter series on its head. In the 70-minute Olivier-nominated stage production Potted Potter – The Unauthorised Harry Experience, Hermione Granger is a six-foot man with a backcombed crop and Quidditch matches are played indoors.

The best bit? The entire play is performed by a two-man cast.

Daniel Clarkson, who has co-written the play with Jefferson Turner, says the parody, which will be staged at Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre in Dubai’s Mall of the Emirates from Wednesday to Sunday, also features a dragon and serpents.

“I guarantee there will be live magic and fire-breathing dragons,” says Clarkson. “Though it can get quite awkward because there are two men playing the parts of Hermione and Ginny, who fall in love with Ron and Harry. Maybe it’s not the love story the way you’ve seen it before.”

If that doesn’t make you gasp for air between laughs, the two actors – one of whom suffers from amnesia in this abridged version of the tale about the Boy Who Lived – also have an improv segment that will keep the audience in fits of laughter.

Clarkson and Turner, who were known as Dan and Jeff when they worked together as presenters on the BBC’s children’s network CBBC in the United Kingdom, were the original actors in the production, but passed the baton to new cast members last year.

Harry is now played by James Percy and Benjamin Stratton plays every other character from the series – all while “mistakenly” drawing additional inspiration from The Chronicles of Narnia by C S Lewis and J R R Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.

Clarkson first conceived of the spoof as a short skit for fans who queued up outside London bookshops at midnight to get their hands on the first copies of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in 2005.

“A friend of mine from a PR company wanted something with which we could entertain the crowd,” says Clarkson. “So I came up with the idea of five books in five minutes.

“But we didn’t have anyone to play Harry as I was going to play all the other characters. That’s when I met Jeff, who was doing some street theatre in Covent Garden. I thought if he squinted and shut one eye, he looked a bit like Daniel Radcliffe,” he says, referring to the actor who played the teenage wizard in the film adaptations of the series.

Clarkson and Turner built on the success of their first show and expanded it to cover all seven books, presenting it at the Edinburgh Fringe, touring in North America and opening off-Broadway in New York.

“Every day, the appreciation for the show surprises me more,” says Clarkson. “I’m waiting for the day when somebody realises this was just two friends having fun and we’re told to go home and stop being silly.”

But Potted Potter’s appeal, he says, really lies in the widespread popularity of the books by J K Rowling. “The amazing thing with the books is that they are for everybody. They started out essentially as children’s books but adults picked them up as well. In making the show suitable for everyone – keeping toilet humour at bay – we had to be clever.”

One highlight of the show is a simulation of a Quidditch match. “I think it is the only theatre show in the world where you can join in the game, with Quaffles flying around. There is a snitch as well.”

Clarkson says they have tried to remain faithful to the books, with Dobby the house-elf and a few Death Eaters making appearances.

“My favourite character is Lord Voldemort,” says the Harry Potter nerd. “He is very misunderstood. I think if someone had just given him a hug, a lot of the trouble could have been avoided.”

But has Rowling seen the show and does she approve?

“There is a story that she was turned away at the box office when she came to watch the show at Edinburgh because there were no tickets and the girl at the counter didn’t know who she was. Now, wherever we perform in the world, there is always a seat reserved for her, just in case. That will be the same when we come to Dubai.”

Potted Potter is at Ductac, Mall of the Emirates, from Wednesday to Sunday. Tickets cost from Dh150. Email box.office@ductac.org for more information

aahmed@thenational.ae