'Potted Potter': 7 books in 70 minutes

Jeff Turner and Daniel Clarkson in "Potted Potter." THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO

TORONTO - Whenever the duo behind "Potted Potter" bring their stage show to Edinburgh, Scotland, they make sure there is one empty seat in the audience — just in case "Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling wants to check out the acclaimed parody of her books.

A coffee shop in the Scottish capital is where Rowling famously penned the first instalment of her immensely popular series about the boy wizard with the lightning-shaped scar.

But even though "Potted Potter" star Daniel Clarkson loves the idea of having Rowling see the show — which zips through all seven "Potter" books in just 70 minutes — he concedes her presence might make him too nervous to perform.

"I think it would terrify me if she did come to see it," said the 33-year-old Londoner, who began developing the acclaimed show with pal Jeff Turner about six years ago.

"I'd be terrified because I'm a fan, I'd be that nervous being in front of one of the greatest novelists of the last century.... That's enough to make me freeze up, I think."

After regaling audiences in the U.K., Australia and New Zealand, "Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Experience — A Parody by Dan and Jeff" is about to make its North American debut at Toronto's Panasonic Theatre. Previews begin Saturday and opening night is set for Valentine's Day.

The show got its start when Clarkson was hired to entertain crowds waiting outside a London bookstore for the 2005 release of the sixth "Potter" book. He enlisted 31-year-old Turner to help him and while the duo initially thought they'd be performing for a few dozen people, the group of Potterites soon swelled to several hundred.

"It turns out Harry Potter is quite popular," Clarkson said dryly. "Who knew?"

From there, they honed the show (eventually incorporating the seventh book) and performed it at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

The books, of course, are jam-packed with Muggles, wizards and magical creatures. The roles in "Potted Potter" aren't exactly evenly distributed: Turner plays Harry, while Clarkson takes on more than 360 other parts.

"It kind of fell that way — it felt right for me to ... narrate the book and Dan started dancing around me while I was doing it," said Turner, also from London. "It seemed to work."

"And at the time, all the props were mine and I don't share," quipped Clarkson. "In hindsight, I should have just shared."

Still, as a die-hard Potter fan, Clarkson clearly delights in recreating the memorable characters in Rowling's books.

"My favourite is Voldemort," he said, referring to Harry's arch enemy. "This poor guy, he's the dark lord, the king of all that is evil ... yet this 11-year-old boy keeps stopping him and that can't be good for your ego."

The show, which includes a giant Quidditch game, is intended for all ages (the duo remember a night when the audience included an eighth-birthday bash sitting two rows away from a bachelorette party), but can change according to the crowd.

"Sometimes we'll have school audiences, and then we'll have an evening show and it's all adults. It doesn't get risque or blue or anything but the humour definitely switches," said Turner.

As fans of Canuck comics Mike Myers, Jim Carrey and Eugene Levy, Clarkson and Turner are curious to see how the show connects with Canadian audiences.

And as for Rowling, the invitation stands. Years ago, they were told that the author actually did try to see "Potted Potter," but was turned away because there were no more tickets.

Hence, the perpetually reserved seat in Edinburgh.

"It's a story of legend now," said Clarkson.

Added Turner: "There's always one seat that doesn't get sold. If she turns up, there's a seat for her."

"Potted Potter" runs until March 25.