We spoke to Potted Potter co-creator Jeff Turner and actor James Percy about the show, Potted Sherlock, cruise audiences and their amazing Filipino fans.
Is there a difference between the cruise audience and your regular audience?
James: Oh yeah. With the cruises, they don’t know the show is gonna be there, they’re just going on a cruise, it just so happens that we’re there. The people who come along aren’t necessarily theater-goers or fans, they were just people who were there who were looking for something to do. So I kinda feel like we have to work harder to try to win them over. We have to really kinda go, “Look it’s fun, you’ll like it.” “But we don’t like Harry Potter.” “You’ll love it!”
Jeff: “Don’t go!” And also because it was free, people could come and go.
So some of them would leave in the middle of it?
James: Yeah. People would come in and go, “Okay, I’ve seen enough, what else is on somewhere else?” But it’s kind of just the cruise mentality because there’s so much entertainment going on at one time.
That must be so weird for you guys.
James: Yeah. We definitely point it out. We didn’t let them get off scot-free. We would point out the fact that they were leaving. Or some of them would come in with food from the buffet. They would come in with their meal because their chairs had tables, like an airplane, they had tables that pulled out and went over your lap.
Jeff: That’s hilarious.
James: So people would come in and it was like they were watching their TV program with dinner. It was very strange. I’ve done cruise ships before as a solo, as a stand-up comedian so I was kind of used to that mentality but for Ben it was a completely different experience.
It must be so weird.
James: But yeah, it’s fun. Once we’d done the one show, we’d have two or three days to just lay by the pool and be on a cruise which was nice.
Jeff: I think we look after you too much. And we pay you too much. We need to talk.
James: Yeah, yeah.
You’ve been bringing it to different countries – did you notice a difference in the way people receive the show?
James: Definitely. It’s been different reactions… I came onboard the show last year for the American tour and we found that even just going from state to state in America, the reactions were completely different. The attitudes of people were so so varied. And then again, coming over to Asia was a complete different experience. We’ve heard great things about the Manila audiences from Gary and Jesse. We’re really really excited. It’s kind of a hotspot of the tour for us. We’ve been really gearing up for it.
Which places have been the most hardcore when it comes to fans?
James: Singapore was really really good. The audiences were great in Singapore. Every single show, we struggled to be heard or to be able to hear each other because they were so loud and laughing so loud and screaming and whooping.
Jeff: Singapore schmingapore, you wait ’til tonight.
Do you have a costume party at every stop?
Jeff: They’re very very very rare. In all the years Dan and I have done it, maybe we’ve done about 1500 shows, maybe we’ve had six.
Do people go all out?
James: Even when it’s not a costume party, people go all out when they go see the show.
Jeff: I’m very excited to see what people will turn up.
James: And we get to judge them tonight which is fun.
Jeff: As opposed to unofficially judging them.
James: I judge them every time. But tonight we actually get to judge them. I want one of those big buzzers.
And they drop through the floor.
James: That’s a more hardcore version. You kill them in your version.
Do you miss doing the show?
Jeff: I do, actually. But in January we ended 18 months of solid doing Potted Potter so we needed a break. It’s been really nice having a break and working on something else.
Will you be doing Potted Sherlock again?
Jeff: Yes, I hope so. Nothing confirmed yet but there’s a few things up in the air. Hopefully doing it in the West End in London over Christmas and then hopefully doing a UK tour in the summer.
Do you have any other dream book or franchise that you want to turn into a Potted show?
Jeff: Not really. We’ve kinda covered what we wanted to do and it took us a while to decide on doing Sherlock. Dan and I are both big fans of the stories and we’ve both read all the Sherlock Holmes stories and it’s suddenly the right time with the BBC series and the Hollywood films came out a few years ago. You never know what’s going to be cool again. When the Narnia films came out, that was something I was keen on doing. The films are fine but they never took off. If I could do anything but I can’t because they’re already funny, but I’d love to do Roald Dahl stories. Roald Dahl was my favorite author when I was a kid and he’s still my favorite author now.
James: I think we were the generation that grew up with Roald Dahl.
Jeff: Absolutely. But the thing is, it’s already funny and Dan and I both believe that you cannot parody something that’s already funny. We have a lot of people asking us why don’t we do anything about Monty Python. And I’d love to because one of our passions is Monty Python but you can’t because at the very very best you’d be a bit as good as them. We’ve discussed other things – a Doctor Who.
James: I’d love a Doctor Who one.
Jeff: You never know. Doctor Who was close to happening when we decided to do Sherlock.
James: James Bond is another good one but then I kind of feel like Austin Powers is almost a parody of the James Bond series.
Jeff: It’s all quite passe now.
Would you do Potted Sherlock?
James: Yeah, if the time came round. When I went to see the show in London, I went to Dan and Jeff backstage before their show and they were both getting ready and the first thing Jeff said to me, “Oh you’ve come to see what costume you’d be wearing in four years’ time.”
That’s the future.
Jeff: It’s possible. Potted Sherlock is brand new. We’re not in the habit of giving our shows away, Potted Potter is the complete exception and it’s just because it’s so popular and we’ve been doing it for so long it was starting to get stale. We started in 2010, we were obviously tired of doing the show and we didn’t want the show to suffer. That’s why the alternate cast was brought in. And they’re younger as well, which he loves to keep reminding me. The energy all came back to it. Sherlock… we’ve written it when we’re older.
James: It’s a more mature show.
So you need to get older.
Jeff: There’s a little bit less falling over. There’s more sitting. With hats. I love Sherlock Holmes. I’ve only performed Sherock 30 times compared to the 1500 of Potted Potter. It will be a little while before we give it away.
When casting Potted Potter, did you check if they were fans of Harry Potter?
Jeff: Not as much as you’d think. We didn’t want to exclude anyone just because they weren’t. Because getting someone to read the Harry Potter books is quite an easy thing to do. Getting someone to be a better actor is a lot harder. James hadn’t read the books when we started.
James: Yeah. I had seen some of the films, I remember reading book one but I wasn’t a hardcore fan whereas Ben was.
Jeff: We did say in the audition process, if you get this job, you obviously have to read the books. If you read the books and absolutely hate them, there’s no way you can do this job. So we need you to read them now and make sure you like them. But the thing is, I still maintain that it is very hard to read the books and not like them. You can be one of these people, “I’m not gonna read them, they’re kids’ books.” That’s fine, you don’t have to read them. And I do understand the people not liking the films. I love the books, I’m not a huge fan of the films. The films are fine but I think the books are where the real magic is. No pun intended. Or maybe pun intended.
James: Pun intended.
Jeff: I think if you pick up and read all seven books, you cannot get to book 7 and not care what’s going to happen. I don’t think it’s possible. Whatever criticism you have of the books, the storytelling is too good. The core story is far too interesting. So we were pretty confident James would like it. It hasn’t been a problem at auditions. Most of people have read at least some of the books. James was an exception, he still god the job because “you’re probably gonna like them.” And he did.
James: I did. I’m a huge fan now.
Is it just a coincidence that your names sound good together?
What if somebody auditioned and he had a really weird name?
Jeff: For example, Jesse is a very unusual name in the UK. I had never met anyone named Jesse before. In the US, we had a guy called Delmey.
James: We shortened that to Del for the show. Del and James.
Jeff: We always want them to keep their names. That’s important because we want some truth behind it. We wouldn’t make anyone change it. Our very first alternates in the States were David and Richard and they were David and Richard because David didn’t want to be Dave and Richard didn’t want to be Rich. It’s not a problem. It doesn’t need to be that catchy.
Do you have fans constantly trying to quiz you?
Jeff: Depends where we are. We got that a lot in London, actually. Fans at the stage door… and actually New York. A lot of people didn’t believe we were British. They thought we were putting on fake British accents. If I was that good at accents, I’d be a lot higher up the old acting food chain than I am now. In New York, we had a lot of super fans coming to see the show, a lot of internet groups and they wouldn’t quiz us so much as in conversation they’d slip a reference in and see if we got it.
James: See if we responded.
Jeff: Sometimes when you come offstage, you had done two shows that day, you’re brain’s tired, you go, “I know that’s a Harry Potter reference. I have no idea what it is.”
Where will you be sitting tonight?
Jeff: I don’t know. Hopefully in the bar. I have no idea. The sad reality of theater is I will be given a ticket and I will set where that ticket tells me. I may have written it but I still need a ticket to see it. I’ll be backstage with them before.
How updated are you?
James: To be honest it’s the fans that let us know. We often get tweets, “Oh, have you seen this?”
Jeff: It’s like having the hive mind that contacts you. We’ll just search Potted Potter, Harry Potter, recently we’ve been searching #PottedPotterMNL because you guys are crazy for Twitter out here.
James: Social media is the main thing.
Do you notice if some countries more into Twitter than others?
James: Yeah. Manila is really one it. We were somewhere else, we’re performing the shows somewhere else, we go on Twitter and there was more about Potted Potter from Manila where we hadn’t been performing that night than from the places we were performing in.
Jeff: Genuinely, everywhere else we’ve ever been, Manila’s just a different world. I may have told you this before but the statistic that amazes me is that our main Facebook page has 10,000 likes but the Manila one has 42,000 likes.
Jeff: We’ve only been here twice. And only 6,000 people could possibly have seen the show. How we have 42,000 is beyond me. It’s amazing. It makes us feel very popular.