Bloody Hell! What is it with Brits and audience interaction?
Both the current Potted Potter and One Man, Two Guvnors—imports, the lot of ‘em—generously partake of this most dangerous of devices.
If you’re like me, you want your actors engaged onstage, thank you very much. Indeed, as the narrator of The Drowsy Chaperone once prayed, “I didn’t pay good money to have the fourth wall come crashing down on me.” Amen, brother!
But sometimes… sometimes!… a little crashing ain’t so bad, something to which these two new shows can attest. Potted Potter, a screwy summary of the tomes of JK Rowling, pauses the Cliffs Notes midway through Book 4 to bring up the lights on a fun, participatory game of Quidditch. While there aren’t any flying brooms (this is off Broadway, guys), there are two light-up, circular goals on either side of the theater, as well as some souped-up lighting. Houses right and left (“Gryffindor” and “Slytherin”) compete by battling over a beach ball hurled into the audience. (You know, like at your high school graduation.)
My fellow Potterheads and I never did score, leaving the tally at a disappointing nil-nil, but two audience member erased our dismay by joining the cast onstage for a follow-up episode of snitch-catching. The hyperactive little boy proved incredibly hilarious when he hurled himself fearfully off the stage, while the deceptively demure tween girl prompted the evening’s funniest ad-lib by tackling a performer dressed as a snitch to the ground: “She’s got 99 problems, but a snitch ain’t one,” deadpanned an actor.
Potted Potter got lucky the night I saw it: The audience members were good fun and endearingly odd. But what happens when they’re dull or even dangerous? One Man, Two Guvnors manages that contingency with “plants,” or actors pretending the be ticket holders. One “Christine” gets the craziest of the fun, getting knocked around and whited-out by a fire-extinguisher. (When I saw the show in London, I didn’t think the woman was a plant, so believable was her anxious performance. It was only when I looked at the published script that the truth came out.)
In both shows, the audience shenanigans was the highlight of the evening, enlivening scripted comedy with some spontaneity. Still, I hold to my principles: Please stay away, actors; the threat of getting pulled in front of the footlights is enough to send me slinking into the ground, terrified.
Agree? Disagree? Let’s (gulp) bring down the 4th wall of the blogosphere and (double gulp) interact!
at the Little Shubert
directed by Richard Hurst
One Man, Two Guvnors
at the Music Box
directed by Nicholas Hytner
photos by Joan Marcus