Puffs The Play (Tilted Windmills Theatricals in Association with Teg Live)
Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre
August 23 – September 29
Last month I was lucky enough to experience the spectacle that is “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” in Melbourne, one of the slickest shows around. At the other end of the spectrum is “Puffs The Play”, which is no disparagement, because the show’s premise is deliberately course; the set and costumes are deliberately low-budget, which makes for the inclusion of iconic reference points more notable and hilarious is in their ingenuity. And under Kristin McCarthy Parker’s direction, its controlled chaos is infectiously fun.
The smash-hit Harry Potter parody show written by Matt Cox takes audiences into its world of magical misfits through its tongue-in-cheek ‘seven increasingly eventful years at a certain school of magic and magic’, by taking minor and unseen characters of the iconic stories and giving them a centre-stage focus. Rather than the boy wizard with the famous scar (who makes a few awkward, unnecessary appearances) and Ron and Hermione (who are reduced to a mop and wig, as a young audience member hilariously announces out-loud to the entire audience), the fast-paced action starts with Wayne (Ryan Hawke) following his fate to the school for placement as a Puff, the name of the uncoolest House (in nod to Hufflepuff).
Over the years Puffs House becomes home to the show’s loveable group of misfits whose initial ambition does not rise beyond goal of ‘third or nothing’ in the House Cup competition. The Narrator (Gareth Isaac) takes the audience through each year of the journey of orphaned Queenslander Wayne, maths-prodigy Oliver (Adam Marks) and rebel Megan (Angelina Thomson), with the three emerging as a likeable trio of unlikely friends.
Isaac makes for an animated narrator whose skilled comic timing keeps momentum at peak energy. James Bryers shines as the handsome Cedric Diggory, the only non-oddball Puff, and his cameo as the evillest dark wizard of all time is absolutely hilarious. Daniel Cosgrove is masterful as Muggle-born wizard J Finch and Matt Whitty’s portrayal of the iconic Snape is spot-on and clearly appreciated by the audience.
While most performances are deemed to be suitable for ages 14+, due to the show’s coarse language and adult themes, on weekend matinees things are been lightly transfigured so that wizards ages eight and above can share in the magic, and parents can relax knowing their kids won’t learn any new curses. And there is a real delight to seeing the reactions and interactions of younger audience members. The unpredictability of scenes in which players seek audience suggestions stand also as proof of the skill of the performers themselves who easily ad-lib with witticism to entertain adults and children alike. Even interval comes with its own irreverent humour courtesy of Wizard Radio’s slow rock numbers.
“Puffs The Play” is an affectionate homage that maintains the themes of the original Harry Potter stories and injects them with an abundance of humour. Indeed, is a Potter’ fan’s dream. Although I don’t fit into this category and didn’t get the reasons behind all the audience reactions, there is still enough for casual consumers of the franchise to appreciate its titbits and character appearances of the Moaning Myrtle and Mad-Eye Moody sort. And the call-forwards to “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” are an appreciated added touch.
The set of four frequently utilised doors is perfectly designed for the show’s silly, slapstick nature (in a “Noises Off” sort of way), however, the manic pace of the laugh-out-loud fun means that there is initial confusion as to characters (with many players switching in and out of multiple roles) and that jokes are occasionally missed as things move on before they can register. Once oriented to the story, however, there is much for Potterheads to love in this show, as its sell-out touring season has demonstrated.