British panto meets Harry Potter in a show for the young at heart

Obviously, if you’ve read past the headline, you are a fan of J.K. Rowling’s famous boy wizard — no one who isn’t a die-hard fan would even read this review, let alone buy tickets to a stage parody of the Harry Potter novels. But if you are indeed a big fan, and routinely torture your family by quoting the books at the dinner table (my Patronus appears in the form of Ryan Reynolds, in case you’re wondering), rest assured: this show is meant for you. It distills all seven HP books (and a few others, including The Hobbit and Fifty Shades of Grey) into a fast-paced 75 minutes. 

Touring productions of Potted Potter have been criss-crossing the globe in various incarnations for 12 years. The script was developed by Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner in 2005, but they’ve long since handed off the roles to an army of performers for the many touring productions, and this one features Scott Hoatson and Brendan Murphy. The premise is that Scott has sent Brendan away with the cash for 20 Broadway actors and an expensive set, and Brendan has spent it all on the dragon from book 4, leaving them with only themselves and a homemade set to convey the Rowling oeuvre. Hence Scott finds himself looking at two little stuffed warthogs instead of the legendary Hogwarts, school of witchcraft and wizardry. And the mayhem ensues. I can’t really comment on how effective that set was, because my view of it was obscured from my seat (if you have a choice, avoid the Tier 1 seats close to the stage), but I suspect it was very much not the key feature. Hoatson and Murphy are dynamic and engaging, and I imagine they would be fun to watch in any setting. 

Despite its long history, the show nonetheless maintains a spontaneous improv tone. On opening night, one joke was utterly lost in translation, even to a devoted watcher of BBC and ITV such as myself, but it seemed likely that it would be jettisoned by the following night. There was a bit of charming confusion over whether they should be referencing the Philosopher’s Stone or the Sorcerer’s Stone, depending on which country they’ve found themselves in, and it wasn’t clear if this was scripted or not (if not, it’s a keeper). Be prepared for traditional British panto, with songs and slapstick and audience participation encouraged (but not mandatory). Topical references range from Donald Trump (the parallels with you-know-who are obvious) to Game of Thrones, and they fly by at a pace that is designed to appeal to the adults who are pretending that they’re attending for the sake of the children. There is (of course) a game of Quidditch that pits one half of the audience against the other, and a chance for two eager young seekers to get up on stage and chase the Golden Snitch. 

On opening night there were fewer actual children than I would have expected, although plenty of young-at-heart Potter fans. The show reminded me of the best of the Children’s Festival, back in the good old days when there was a Children’s Festival. The best way to see this one might be with a child or two (ideally one who has a firmly held opinion on whether Snape is evil or not). 

Potted Potter is presented by Arts Commons Presents and runs in the Martha Cohen Theatre until February 18.

Lori Montgomery is a former FFWD theatre critic who practices medicine to support her writing habit.