‘Puffs’ (AIM Production)

‘Puffs’ (AIM Production) or ‘Several increasingly eventful years at a certain school for magic and magic’ is a 2015 play by New York-based playwright Matt Cox; he came up with the idea for ‘Puffs’ one night on a homeward bound subway ride.

The play is tongue in cheek, deliberately hammed up drama, with a great deal of dry humour. Obviously, it is a comedic retelling of J. K. Rowling’s ‘Harry Potter’ books; but Puffs’ writer has crammed in quotes and excerpts from several other well-known books, movies and plays.

The play was nominated for a 2017 Off-Broadway Alliance Award for ‘Best Unique Theatrical Experience’, it ran for eight months. In April of 2019, a new production of Puffs had its Australian Premiere in Sydney.

The Art in Motion Theatre Company are a dedicated team of actors with a huge amount of experience. They are now  presenting this show for adults in conjunction with the Don Russell Arts Centre. It has strong language – quite a few F-bombs – and a couple of seconds of minor, but very funny, sexual references.

Between Thursday 12th Friday 13th and Saturday 14th November at 8.00 pm and Sunday 15th November 6.00 pm.

This fast moving 110-minute production is being staged at the Don Russell Performing Arts Centre, Lot 13 Murdoch Road, Thornlie just off the Roe Highway.

Scene:                   A magic school in England. Present day.

Set:                        designed and solidly built by Graham Tickner then decorated by the cast and crew.

Lighting:               designed and operated by Karen Cook, with years of experience in many genres of production from puppets to adult shows, there was colour, excitement and a few creepy scenes.

Sound:                 The audio was wonderful, crisp, clear and beautifully designed effects by Kieran O’Regan. The fine teamwork with Karen’s lighting showed, with the demanding cues becoming more rapid as the show progressed.

Stage management:       was slick. Stage Manager Simon Walters had the dozens of exits and entrances well planned. Often the actors would throw a prop aimlessly off stage and there was always someone there to catch it. Well done the alert stage crew, Gemma and Kate Wright.

A graduate of the School of Magic, Wayne Rivers-Jones (Alexander Courtney) narrates the story of his parents and their friends. He dismisses the tired tale of a young orphan with a brow scar, and instead introduces an orphan named Wayne Hopkins (Liam Tickner). Nerdy Wayne lives with his uncle Dave. One day, an owl drops a letter in Wayne hands, inviting him to become a pupil at ‘a certain school of magic’. Wayne discovers that both his parents were wizards.

When at the school, Wayne finds himself in a sorting ceremony, as the students are nervously being allotted to different houses. Wayne is put in the ‘Puff’ category. In the common room the Puffs introduce themselves. There is a Puff, Susie Bones (Montanna Tickner) who constantly lives in fear of death since her entire family died. Enigmatic Megan (Niamh Nichols) who thinks she should be with the Snakes and is the daughter of the infamous Xavia Jones (Rebecca Haywood), who was put in WizPriz for working with the Dark Lord.

A shy Puff who gets made fun of by the other houses is the slightly dim Hannah (Rebecca Haywood). The suave heartthrob, Cedric Diggory (Thomas McCracken, vibrant) introduces himself as the group leader. He warns the housemates that they will be mocked because the Puffs have never won the House Cup.

The group must earn points for good behaviour. During the night, Megan sneaks out to go be with the Snakes, but she seen wandering around the forbidden chamber. She complains about being in the Puffs and tells the Fat Friar how she misses her mum.

Wayne and a mathematical wizard, Oliver (Terence Smith) bond over the fact that they are both new to the school and to magic. After days of unsuccessful classes, the Puffs have lost many points. The Narrator introduces the second year, where a giant snake attacks the whole school. On Halloween, Wayne and Megan tell Oliver that a secret chamber has been opened and that the snake is inside. The Puffs attend the school’s Halloween feast, but the festivities are ruined when someone announces that there is a troll in the dungeon, and they must all to go back to their common room.

The defence teacher begins a duelling club, selecting Malfoy (Tara Oorjitham) and Mr. Potter (Montanna Tickner), a famous student in the ‘Brave’ house who kills magical beasts and constantly steals opportunities from the Puffs. J. Finch Fletchley (Connie Wetherilt), a flamboyant and happy Puff is worried about dying, so a self-assured and infatuated Puff, Ernie Mac (Bailey O’Hehir) advises him not to leave the room .

Wayne discovers and immediately falls for bubbly Leanne (Rachel Vonk), who invites everyone to her slumber party. Then Sally Perks (Tara Oorjitham), a timid Puff who just wants to be loved, thinks it is the boys’ slumber party. She takes off her glasses and the boys quickly find her attractive – but now she cannot see them.

Will the Puffs survive another term at school?

Costumes were mainly supplied by the cast, but Angela Wright added a few special extras.

Director Lys Tickner has selected an exceptional cast, many of whom have been nominated for acting, directing, dancing and musical awards – yes, multitalented and yet no one was seen to be seeking individual attention. The Puffs as a group stole the show. By slowing the show down from the advised 95 to 110 minutes the director has allowed the performers to develop the characters more, making the show more satisfying.

When a tale is narrated it is essential that the actor captures the audience in the opening seconds and drags them into the story; Alexander Courtney’s intonation and mysterious voice held everyone’s attention.

Many of the cast had two or three very different parts and managed to switch characters rapidly. Because the whole cast seemed to be enjoying the script it came alive. You can see the immense amount of work that has gone into this show.

I saw this play recently and found the production manic and came out stunned and not sure what I had seen, although the Potter fans present all enjoyed it. This presentation is still punchy and fast moving, but it is suitable for the Hogwarts uninitiated. I followed every line of dialogue, understood the actions and interactions. A polished presentation with dynamism, passion and so many laughs. Congratulation to all concerned.