On a chilly autumn evening, around 70 people gathered into a small room at Trades Hall, anxious to see Completely Improvised Potter at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Trades Hall is a bit reminiscent of Hogwarts; with its shabby carpets, uneven staircases and 150-year-old walls, it has an ambience of anachronism and the scent of old books.
Audience members were greeted with a “welcome to Hogwarts!” as we stepped into the simply-set room comprising several rows of seating and a small stage. A large glittering Hogwarts emblem hung behind the stage, and a spotlight shone upon two chairs: the only props for the night.
Upon arrival, each audience member had written a suggestion for the title of an un-told Harry Potter fable on a piece of paper, which was then placed into a ‘Goblet of Fire’. There were no limits on creativity, only that the story suggestions were to be child appropriate and free from pop-culture references (no Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones allowed). The chosen one would become the genesis for an hour-long improvised performance, where seven actors (all dressed in their Hogwarts uniforms) would aim to produce a new, untold narrative of another bonkers year for Harry at Hogwarts.
After a drum roll, “Harry Potter and Dumbledore’s Revenge” was plucked out.
For an hour, the actors conjured up a wacky wizarding tale of yoga, manipulation and revenge plotting. Hagrid was dizzy with romance after meeting Regina, the new defence against the dark arts teacher. Little did he know that she was Dumbledore’s old high-school nemesis (which made her about 112 years old) and also working as a double agent for Voldemort.
Within the first five minutes, these talented actors had already weaved several different characters into the story. They drew on the tropes of houses and individuals that we’re all familiar with (Snape still hated James Potter and yearned for the defence against the dark arts job), whilst also creating fresh inside-jokes for themselves.
The actors have no pause button, no time to huddle and recoup; the story’s flow is therefore reliant upon the creativity and intuition of the actors. The performance had moments of clumsiness, however any awkwardness, silence or confusion was rescinded by the confidence and flair of the performers. For the entire hour, the audience felt like we were under an Imperius Curse of some sort. We were entranced; captivated by the story and eager to see what riddikulus scenario the actors would come up with next.
Completely Improvised Potter is produced by Melbourne Improvisational Theatre Company Soothplayers, who also do Completely Improvised Shakespeare. Unsurprisingly, the actors are a bunch of Potter-nerds. However, the hour of raw and kooky improv is the result of years of practice, with many actors trained in improvisation at professional institutions around the world.
Whether you’re a Potter-head or just in for some disarmingly brilliant comedy, you’re destined to find Completely Improvised Potter Siriusly magical.
Highlight: The spontaneous yoga that served to defend against the dark arts and the Dursleys.
Lowlight: The audience had to drum roll a total of four times until we finally settled on an appropriate, PG-rated title.
Crowd favourite: One actor played the characters of both Ron and Voldemort, which became troublesome and hilarious when both characters were featured in the same scene.