Potted Potter: An Interview with Jeff
In 2005, a struggling actor set up in Covent Garden, London to give street-side performances of his one-man retelling of Treasure Island.
It was not a hit.
As Dan tells it, he stumbled across Jeff performing to an audience of three, two of whom were a kind Japanese couple that were very confused.
But they struck up a conversation and Dan invited Jeff to join him for a drink.
“He had thought I looked familiar,” Jeff Turner said, “Apparently I looked enough like Harry Potter for a project he was doing.. Or at least, I was probably cheap enough for him to hire!”
Dan told Jeff about his idea to create a two-man comedy stage-play summarizing the books of Harry Potter and that he wanted to have it ready for the release of the sixth book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
An Unexpected International Hit
Jeff loved the idea and they dove into the creation. The two refined and expanded their on-stage dynamic, wrote their script, and Potted Potter first opened in Scotland.
“When we first wrote it in 2006, we thought it would be a little touring show across the UK, but it’s gone so well that it’s going ‘round the world” Jeff said with visible gratitude and enthusiasm.
Adapting the Potter books for a comedic play took some careful writing: “Dan and I are both fans, but we weren’t scared to lose 500 pages of book and replace it with a funny hat and a funny voice!”
Hilariously, when they first started, Jeff had not yet read a single page of Potter!
“I did that thing,” he explained, “where it became popular before I knew about it and I liked to be an indie kid, liking something before it’s cool. So I hadn’t read the books before we started, but now I’ve read them all, and I won’t say I’m the biggest fan because Dan got there before me, but I am the second biggest fan.”
That love of the Potter stories resulted in a show that was coveted the world over! The pair traveled across four different continents and even had one of their heroes come see them.
“Eric Idle came to see us in San Francisco!” Jeff spoke about Monty Python being a massive influence for both he and Dan and was bursting with excitement as he remembered the night.
“He even gave us a note,” Jeff said, “He told us to ‘milk the applause more’ which was very tough for us because we’re so British. But when a Python tells you something, you listen, so we started bowing three times instead of one.”
A huge part of the show’s success was that Dan and Jeff turned out to be a match made in Hogwarts!
“I didn’t know this about myself at the time,” Jeff shared, “but I’m a born straight man in comedy, and it turns out it’s harder to find the straight man than it is the funny man.”
This newfound ability set the two up for amazing comedic synergy.
“Dan is excellent at what he does but I would always rather take the punch on stage than give it. I get way more satisfaction from being the fall guy and that’s why the show works, the relationship on stage was absolutely natural.”
As the production took off and the two couldn’t be in two places at once (‘time-turners’ are hard to come by for muggles), they began auditioning new performers.
“We were really worried about recasting as I’m sure you can imagine, but it’s wonderful, we let them find their own double-act. They don’t have to do it like we did. They have the script, they know what it’s supposed to be, but if a bit doesn’t work with their dynamic then we’ll change it.”
Jeff spoke really highly of the performers who will be at the Mae Wilson: “The pair we’ve got coming to Moose Jaw, Scott and Joe, are fantastic. Scott’s the straight man, he’s a Scottish guy and he plays it stronger than I do and it works so well with Joe. It’s nice to have people we’re proud to send out!”
The show is a little different every night, depending on what the audience shouts out and how the performers spin some of the jokes.
One of the main audience opportunities is the live game of Quidditch that the audience is invited to play. When asked how people can prepare in advance, Jeff answered coyly: “Oh crikey, that is a very good question… Maybe think about the mascots of the four houses. A little bit of knowledge might help them out.”
He then laughed and added, “And of course get some broom practice in! It would be embarrassing if you fell off your broom from fifteen feet.”
Advice for Young Creatives
As an Olivier Award-nominated actor and working writer, Jeff has been around the block. When asked if he had advise for aspiring creatives he was very encouraging.
“Just keep creating,” said Jeff, “You can’t create too much and some of it’s going to be terrible because some of the absolute greats in whatever field it is have created some rubbish. It all practices the brains and muscles even if it’s all nonsense. It keeps the brain ticking over.”
He added some very practice economic advise too:
“It may sound very dull but have a side-hustle, have a backup. I’ve worked behind many a bar, Dan’s waited tables and done VIP hosting at theatres and stuff. Because there’s not always going to be work all the time. And even if you make it huge there’s going to be times on the way up, or the way back down, or in the quiet times where you’re going to have to make ends meet.”
A Night for the Whole Family
Potted Potter plays October 7th & 8th at the Mae Wilson Theatre in Moose Jaw, SK and it is a night suited for the whole family.
“We’ve had dads” Jeff said, “who’ve never read a single page of the books and enjoyed it alongside their kids who were huge fans.”
Tickets can be purchased online or at the Moose Jaw Cultural Centre box office.