A few months ago, we had a fun chat with Ben Stratton in London about “Potted Potter’s” coming third run in Manila. But James Percy, the other half of the hilarious two-person cast of the “Harry Potter” theater parody, wasn’t there (or if he was, he was wearing an invisibility cloak).
Luckily, the wizards at Concertus Manila and Lunchbox Theatrical Productions helped us track him down and we did this interview via e-owl.
How did you get the role?
I auditioned for this show back in early 2013, in London, in front of (the legendary) Dan & Jeff. I say “auditioned,” we kind of just played around in a theater and tried to make each other laugh. Obviously they must have thought I was equally as strange and hyper as them, because I got the job! Since then I’ve been Potter-ing around all over the place, New York, a tour of the USA, Ireland, and now it’s on to Australasia!
Were you a fan of the books and movies before being cast?
Oh definitely, I grew up with the whole Potter world when it started. I wanted to be an actor even as a child, so when the films came out I was insanely jealous of Daniel Radcliffe. Being Harry Potter seemed like the best job in the world. Little did I know that I’d just have to wait till I was a full-grown adult for that dream to come true. Who knew?!
Who is your favorite Harry Potter character?
I suppose I should really say Harry, but between you and I, I’m a bit of a fan of Gilderoy Lockhart. I think he’s so uncool he’s almost cool. Plus, his hair is kind of spectacular.
Should Hermione have ended up with Ron or Harry?
I’m actually pleased that Hermione ended up with Ron. I think it would have been far too obvious and predictable for her to end up with Harry. Plus, they make quite the cute couple and their children will have really frizzy ginger hair. Amazing!
You play Harry while Ben plays almost everyone else; is there any character you wish you could steal from him and play?
Hmmm, I’d quite like to have a go at Hagrid. Ben’s Scottish accent is, well, special. Secretly I think my Hagrid could be quite magical—you’d actually think you were in Scotland, on International Scottish Day, wearing a kilt, eating haggis.
Any crazy onstage stories?
Oh, every show has something crazy and unexpected happen, we never really know what’s going on. We know where we start and where we finish, and the journey we take to get there changes all the time. But we know how to deal with that. The strangest ones are when somebody else does something different, like the lighting guy! It’s pretty crazy when the whole stage goes dark unexpectedly and you’re left doing the show with no lights on. Lesson: Never do the show during bad weather.
Is it hard keeping a straight face onstage?
That’s always the hardest part of the show—keeping a straight face. It’s always Ben’s ultimate goal to try and make me laugh in every show we do. He always throws in things that are completely unexpected, things that he’s never done before to try and make me laugh. Unfortunately, he almost always succeeds.
What’s the hardest part about learning this role?
I suppose the hardest part of learning this role is that it really can’t be learnt! With other acting roles, you learn your lines and then go out and perform those exact lines night after night. With “Potted Potter,” so much of it is improvised and changes in every show that we have to really stay focused and keep on our toes, otherwise we’d lose the plot completely! We never know what the audience are going to do, or what might happen at certain points. I like it that way, it’s always so exciting.
We heard Ben likes eating bananas to prepare for shows; how do you prepare?
I like to prepare by hiding Ben’s bananas. That boy works himself up into an absolute frenzy like a ravenous ape, looking for those bananas. That little game keeps him busy and out of my way, so I can have a quiet cup of tea before the show without him pestering me to play Connect 4.
How were the cruise ship performances?
Great, thanks! We had an absolute ball on the cruise ships! The audiences were lovely and the ships were beautiful, like giant floating hotels. I highly recommend them. It was a little strange though, we were performing while the ship was sailing, so our stage kind of rocked from side to side a little.
The audience gets to play Quidditch in the middle of the game. What was the craziest one you’ve seen?
We were performing the show in a theater with a huge orchestra pit between the stage and the audience. Every time we hit the quaffle out into the audience, somebody would hit it straight into the orchestra pit sending it down, under the stage, never to be seen again! So, we threw out another quaffle and the exact same thing happened again, and again, and again. Our backstage team were in the wings frantically finding more quaffles because we kept sending them to the very depths of the theater. After the show, somebody had the unlucky job of climbing down there to retrieve all of our lost quaffles. I think they were cross with us.
What’s the funniest or most unforgettable thing that’s happened to you onstage?
We were performing the show in New York City and we asked an audience member if they had a broom with them that we could use. Now, we kind of expected him to say no, not many people bring brooms to the theater, except the cleaners, and they aren’t usually sat in the front row. But, quick as a flash, the boy presented his broom to us—which wasn’t just any broom, it was a Nimbus 2000! It blew us away and we had no idea where to go from there, that hadn’t happened before and hasn’t ever happened since. After the show, the boy came to the stage door and had us autograph his broom, which was incredibly cool.
Fans in Manila fell in love with Jesse and Gary. What can you tell them about Ben and James?
They fell in love with them? Really? Well, hopefully we can reach such levels of admiration; we’d be very hurt if fans were only moderately fond of us. We need love, too, that’s why we became actors! Now what can I tell you about us… Well we’re the absolute doubles of Zac Efron and Harry Styles. (You don’t include photos with this interview do you?)
Potted Potter will run at the RCBC Theater Sept. 30 to Oct. 5. For tickets, call Ticketworld at 8919999 or visit www.ticketworld.com.ph.