Puffs (Murdoch)

‘Puffs’ or ‘Several increasingly eventful years at a certain school for magic and magic’ – (Murdoch Theatre Company production) 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, 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 – even Peter Rabbit! – 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.

Murdoch Theatre Company presents an adult show with strong language – quite a few F-words and 5 seconds of minor sexual ‘action’ – so 15+ is advised. There are now four stage scripts available, so the early 5.15 pm show on the 3rd is the child friendly version. This 95-minute Bee Tandy production is being staged in the Kitchen Building at the Goolugatup / Heathcote Cultural Precinct, 58-60 Duncraig Road in Applecross between Thursday 1st October 7.30 pm and Saturday 3rd October 7.45 pm.

Scene: A magic school in England. Present day.

Set: designed by Stephanie Ferguson are mainly colourful flats, but full use has been made of the several doors around the auditorium which helps connect the audience.

Lighting: designed by Stephanie Ferguson was well thought out and appropriate.

Sound: well designed by Ryan Partridge, who was also the technical operator for both lighting and sound.

Stage management: Anna Quercia-Thomas who must have slept well after this manic show.

A graduate of the School of Magic, Wayne Rivers-Jones (Courtney Maldo) narrates the story of her parents and their friends. She dismisses the hackneyed tale of a young orphan with a scar in the shape of a lightning bolt and instead she introduces another orphan named Wayne Watkins (Keiran ‘Keiv’ Trembath). Wayne is a nerdy wizard boy who lives with his uncle Dave (Kylie Sturgess). One day, an owl drops a letter in Wayne’s living room. It invites him to be a pupil at ‘a certain school of magic’. Dave reveals to Wayne that his parents were wizards.

At the school, Wayne finds himself in a sorting ceremony, the students are nervously being sorted into different houses. Wayne is put in the ‘Puff’ category. In the common room, the Puffs go around and introduce themselves. There is Susie (Maggie MacEvilly) a Puff who lives in fear of death, due to the fact that her entire family died. Megan Jones (Hannah Anderson) who thinks she should be with the Snakes and is the daughter of the infamous Xavia Jones, who was put in WizPriz for working with the Dark Lord. Cedric Diggory (James Boucaut) introduces himself as the group leader, warning 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.

Wayne and mathematical wizard, Oliver (Sarah Lewis) bond over the fact that they are both new to the school and to magic. Day after a day of unsuccessful classes, the Puffs lose 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 defence teacher (Phil Bialas) begins a duelling club, selecting Malfoy (Hayley Lyons) and Mr. Potter (Melody Castledine), a famous student in the ‘Brave’ house who kills magical beasts and constantly steals opportunities from the Puffs. Nervous J Finch (Sean Wcislo), a flamboyant and happy Puff is worried about dying.

Wayne discovers and immediately falls for bubbly Leanne (Rosalie Schneider), who invites everyone to her slumber party. Then Sally (Hayley Lyons), a timid Puff who just wants to belong and be loved, takes off her glasses and the boys quickly find her attractive.

Will the Puffs survive another term at school?

Sorry, but as the programme did not name the characters, I may have wrongly credited some actors who understandably looked completely different in their character makeup. Apologies.

Director Stephanie Ferguson and her assistant director, Andrea Kendrick completely captured the genre of this quirky play. The performance was required to be manic, but the directors managed to keep the pace such that every word was audible and the stage movements flowed without the actors tripping over each other.

The script is hilarious and very well delivered. The chemistry between the cast gushed, they were fully tuned in! The storyline for Harry Potter virgins might be a little confusing, as a certain knowledge of the book’s characters is almost essential for full appreciation. I missed quite a few Potter references but laughed at the Mr MacGregor comments.

The costumes (designed by Hannah Purse, then sourced and managed by Bee Tandy) spoke volumes, and thankfully high-tech effects were avoided – the play was supposed to be slightly hammy.

Not my taste of play, but for 90% of the audience it was exactly what they wanted to see, they hooted throughout.

Well presented with vigour and enthusiasm.