Having adapted all seven “Harry Potter” books into a humorous 80-minute play, Daniel Clarkson took his comic condensation skills to the next level: Cramming all 60 Sherlock Holmes stories into the same timeframe.
“I couldn’t refuse that challenge,” Clarkson says.
Clarkson and partner Jefferson Turner perform their Holmes adaptation, “Potted Sherlock,” Friday and Saturday at the City Theatre. The British duo have found widespread success over the past decade with their frenetic and family friendly J.K. Rowling adaptation, “Potted Potter.” A UK bookstore originally hired Clarkson to develop that show in 2005 as part of the entertainment accompanying the release of the sixth Potter book, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.”
As a standup comic, Clarkson had previously performed comically abbreviated solo versions of stories like “Treasure Island.” But for the Potter project, he sought a collaborator to play Harry Potter while Clarkson played every other character in the story. Wandering through town and trying to decide who to bring on board with him, he discovered Turner busking in the street.
“I stand by that if you squint and look hard enough, he looks a little like Daniel Radcliffe,” Clarkson says. “So we had a chat and had a drink, and we’ve been together ever since.”
Clarkson and Turner developed a five-minute version of the Potter series for the book release event together, and its success led them to expand it into the 80-minute show “Potted Potter.” They’ve since performed the show more than 1,500 times around the world. The two also co-wrote and starred in “Potted Pirates,” a high-speed take on pirate legends, and “Potted Panto,” a condensed version of seven plays from the traditional British genre of pantomime.
For the new “Potted Sherlock,” Clarkson and his brother Tom re-purposed a Holmes-based sketch show they’d written more than a decade ago. Turner plays John Watson throughout the show, while Clarkson and actress Natalie Scheetz rotate through a variety of other roles. Clarkson says Holmes seemed a natural choice for a new “Potted” subject, given the character’s recent renewed popularity through TV’s “Sherlock” and “Elementary.” Clarkson, a longtime Holmes fan, had already read most of Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories in high school.
Clarkson rose to the challenge of adapting the 60 Holmes stories by not even trying to give equal time to all of them. He says about 15 minutes of the 80-minute “Potted Sherlock” running time is devoted to retelling “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” since it’s the most recognizable of the many Holmes tales.
“There’re a lot of stories even Sherlock Holmes fans don’t remember,” he says. “Some of them sort of blend into one. But we definitely give every single story a nod. Every single story does get mentioned in some way.”
Clarkson seems hopeful that “Potted Sherlock” will prove as popular as “Potted Potter,” but he and Turner aren’t a bit tired of the show they made their names on. Clarkson says the “Potted” plays are “organic” shows that change as their creators mature, as pop culture shifts and as audiences respond differently.
“It’s something you never really get tired of, because you’re constantly being able to update it and improvise,” he says.
Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer.
8 p.m. Fri.; 2 and 8 p.m. Sat.
2301 Woodward, Detroit