By Matt Cox. The Alex Theatre, St Kilda. 31st May – 8th July 2018

In its inaugural International season, ‘PUFFS or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic’has arrived at the Alex Theatre in St Kilda.

With its script written by Matt Cox, PUFFS is an ingenious parody of the Harry Potter story, but from the Puff’s (or Badger’s) perspective. It craftily weaves some of the popular characters into the world of the Puffs, and allows the audience to be instantly familiar with names and events told by characters of which we are not accustomed to from the franchise. The cleverly woven pop culture references, such as MSN messenger, music and movie references, set the scene in the exact years of the book publishing dates.

PUFFSfollows the story of Wayne (Ryan Hawke), who has been raised by his Aussie bogan uncle after his parents were killed in “a freak chocolate frog accident”. 11 year old Wayne gets delivered his ‘school letter’ by owl, informing him that he’s a wizard. At this certain school, he begins a friendship with Oliver, a ‘mug born’ math prodigy named Oliver (Keith Brockett) and Megan (Eva Seymour), the outcast daughter whose mother is incarcerated in ‘WizPriz’.

All is perfectly narrated by Gareth Isaac who gathers the audience with him as the clever text delineates the synopsis from each of the seven books – my favourite being “Year Four: The Puffs and the Year They Mattered”. We are all still devastated Cedric!

This season has bought the creatives from America to stage the Australian run. Director Kristin McCarthy Parker has done an exceptional job working with the cast, allowing Aussie idioms to prevail where Americanisms wouldn’t work for this audience. Having the playwright in the country meant that script changes could be done onsite, creating immediacy for the audience.

The cast of eleven (with two swing actors) meant that it was an exceptionally tight ensemble. Each actor propelled within his or her own strengths, but worked together to create a cohesive whole.There was not one weak link, all working in harmony on stage.

Characterisations of the popular characters done by Annabelle Tudor and Matt Whitty - as particular members of the school faculty - and Rob Mills, and Olivia Charalambous - as famous characters lifted from the original text; were clear but not overt, allowing the audience to catch glimpses of the filmic portrayal, and harnessing the satirical side to ring through for the audience’s enjoyment.

Act One filled the auditorium with pure happiness, the audience constantly erupting in joyous laughter at the witty dialogue or character portrayals. There was not a moment where the audience were not laughing. Act 2 had the entire audience on tenterhooks; tension in the room was thick as the characters were taking us on such a familiar yet unknown journey.

All throughout were moments by these ‘unknown’ characters that cleverly intersected with the untold story of the underdog Puffs. This enabled the quick transitions of the full seven years at Hogw…. I mean, a certain school of magic, and magic, to create great lineage and beautiful nods to aspects of the original writing.

The underlying tone of the play is that you don’t have to be the best, or be the hero of the story… because the journey that you take in your own life is the most important one to have.

Standout moments were:

Annabelle Tudor as Megan’s nefarious Mother, intent on denying her true Puff status. This new character created a brilliant backstory for an individual in the evil black caped army.

Also Tudor as the character Hannah, most especially when she realises that other students are bullying her with sarcastic comments. Tudor is a magnificent actress who is completely at ease with comic timing. Her ability to change character within moments on stage is mesmerising.

As for Rob Mills’ arrival and continuation of a particular lead character in Act 2 - no spoiler alert here! You’ll just have to see the show to understand what I’m talking about. He worked the stage like magic in these moments and hit all comic timings with aplomb.

Olivia Charalambous as a particular toilet-dwelling ghost in the bathroom scene with Cedric and the golden egg. Charalambous’ accent and characterisation were spot on and a brilliant portrayal of the character.  Also depiction of ‘Harry’ alongside Ron and Hermione was uproariously hilarious.

Tammy Weller as Leanne when she is fighting off a stage full of black capes and she finally achieves her dream. Weller was in her element and had the audience in raptures!

The company has also just announced a 3-week extension! Due to public demand the season will now run until Sunday 8th July.

From 2nd June there will be family-friendly PUFFS matinees on Saturdays at 2pm and Sundays at 1pm which are designed specifically for younger wizards & wizardesses aged 8 and above. (Evening performances are recommended for audiences aged 15+)

I was taken aback by how much I truly loved the show. I am a fan of the franchise, but definitely not a parody enthusiast. However, this cast coupled with such clever writing and staging had me completely hooked.

Puffs is a MUST SEE show of the year. Go twice, and definitely take the kids to the age appropriate sessions. That way you can pick up on all the intricacies in language and design that have been so carefully crafted and woven into the staging of this hilarious tale. 

Penelope Thomas

Photography: Ben Fon

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