I feel I should apologise for scarcely cracking a smile during this frantic show, but then I’m not a member of what marketing people would call the target demographic. In other words, I’m somewhat more than eight years old.
To be fair, I have to report small persons convulsing in various degrees of hysteria at the antics of Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner, the two hard-working, hard-clowning players who undertake to act out the whole of J K Rowling’s Hogwarts oeuvre. The effect is rather like being an adult at a very well organised middle-class children’s party. We have gratefully abandoned the over-excited littl’uns to professional entertainers and in other circumstances would chat (probably about secondary school places) over a glass of wine.
Some people have compared this 70-minute show - which began life on the Edinburgh Fringe over a year ago and has kept going pretty well since then - to the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s efforts. Rendering the plots of magical Harry’s stories with a few signpost characters and events isn’t quite such a challenge.
Nevertheless, 300-odd assorted muggles, monsters and magicians (actually a judicious selection - the dynamic duo admit some limits) require energy and imagination enough. Jeff plays bespectacled Harry and hyperactive Dan just about everybody else, including Voldemort in devil’s horns and Ron Weasley sporting a scarlet woolly wig and street accent.
The much-anticipated dragon in Book 4 turns out to be a rubber hand-puppet with the nasty habit of tweaking Harry’s nose while a can of Felix cat food stands in for the Phoenix. Set, costumes and props must have come out of a budget counted in pence, but this jokey lack of glitz is rather welcome and the audience seems quite open to the idea of ‘imaginative parody’. However daft the proceedings, everyone of primary age will go away knowing this new phrase.
Clarkson and Turner - co-writers as well as performers - along with director Richard Hurst, know that what children like best is adults behaving in a more childish way than they are allowed to do themselves. They are not disappointed. The highlight is a game of quidditch which causes wild competitiveness over the direction of an inflatable globe and ends with the audience liberally sprayed with water.
The show has won “legions of fans” (according to the press release) and if I would prefer a bit more wit along with the slapstick, I don’t think that will hold up Potter’s parodic progress for an instant.
- Heather Neill