Deservedly embraced by Melbourne’s legion of Harry Potter fans, Puffs, or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic, is both a hilarious spoof and a loving homage to the epic series of novels and films.
Just as Wicked pans the camera sideways from the action in The Wizard of Oz, so too does Puffs show an alternate parallel world to the seven year journey of Harry Potter and friends through mythical Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. A full length play (with a running time of 135 minutes, including interval), Puffs is far more than a comic sketch; playwright Matt Cox not only imbues Puffs with its own internal logic but crafts a story that is involving and affecting in its own right.
Cox keeps the jokes coming in rapid succession, scoring the loudest laughs for lines or visual gags that poke fun at inconsistencies in the Potter universe. While the play can ostensibly be enjoyed on its own merits, information from the books and films is mined for delicious subtext, generating many more laughs for knowledgeable Potter fans. Cox also introduces swear words, sexual education and teen passion to Hogwarts (fear not, dear parents, weekend matinees of Puffs are G-rated).
Sorted into the heretofore low profile house of Hufflepuff, our hero Wayne is a portly Aussie battler, adopted at birth into an uncaring home in Queensland. Bighearted Wayne (Ryan Hawke) makes fast friends with maths geek Oliver (Keith Brockett) and goth-lite rebel Megan (Eva Seymour), the trio leading their Puffs pals through all manner of lessons, adventures and romantic entanglements.
As with that other Harry Potter play, a significant portion of the action focuses on the fourth year Triwizard Tournament. In terms of profile and experience, Rob Mills is ahead of the class, but no one could be cooler in the super cool role of Cedric Diggory than Mills. After Cedric’s fateful demise in the third round of the Tournament, Mills returns as He Must Not Be Named, a loopy character that is given basically the same irreverent treatment that Hitler receives in The Producers.
Director Kristin McCarthy Parker maintains a perky level of energy in the cast, supporting the rather breathless pace of Cox’s script by creating a tone of improvised mania. Madeleine Bundy’s set, costume and prop designs have a similarly makeshift feel, giving the sense that everything is happening on the fly. Costume changes are lightning fast, allowing the eleven players to create a whole word of kooky characters.
Gareth Isaac adopts a delectable faux-toffy tone as the increasingly harried Narrator. The cast is rounded out by Zenya Carmellotti as Sally, Olivia Charalambous as Susie (and occasionally as Harry himself), Daniel Cosgrove as J. Finch, Annabelle Tudor as Hannah, Tammy Weller as Leanne and Matt Whitty as Ernie. Audience members with sharp memories will recall that Hannah, Ernie and Finch were Hufflepuffs friends in et original series. Was J. Finch actually gay? See Puffs and find out.
Potter ambience at Alex Theatre is enhanced by extensive decoration throughout the auditorium and foyer. At this crowded Wednesday evening performance, audience members were seen in Gryffindor colours, and vocal participation was high.
A show to enjoy with like-minded friends, Puffs is genuinely funny, lovingly crafted and highly entertaining.
Puffs plays at Alex Theatre, Melbourne until 29 July 2018.
Photos: Ben Fon