Puffs (Alex Theatre) – theatre review

What was happening while young wizard Harry Potter and his friends were honing their skills at Hogwarts? What about the less skilled wizards and witches? They who would scarcely amount to much as Potter struggled against dark Lord Voldemort. Specifically, what happened to an orphan named Wayne Hopkins? Well … Puffs reveals all with much mirth … and a bit of swearing.

At age 11, Wayne (Ryan Hawke) was whisked off to magic school, totally unprepared. This play is about his next seven years, as he forges a close friendship with Oliver (Keith Brockett) and Megan (Eva Seymour). It’s about the challenges they and their fellow students face. They’re inspired by one of their own, Cedric (Rob Mills). He believes they can place in the top three in the House Cup (one of the ongoing gags in the piece).

Photo credit: Ben Fon

The title comes from Hufflepuff – one of Hogwart’s four houses. The production references its founder, medieval witch Helga Hufflepuff. Puffs started as a silly thought about how terrible it must have been to be a student during the time Harry Potter attended magic school. Matt Cox turned it into an off-Broadway hit (with original music composed by Brian Hoes).

To say this is a hoot is an understatement. It’s not only clever but fast-paced and hysterically funny. The show has already garnered a cult following, a la The Rocky Horror Show. And like its forebear, not only the cast dress up. A single, well-placed word – and I assure you there are many – generates peals of laughter from die-hard fans who understand every Potter reference. Adults and children are mesmerised by the material … lost in a sea of ecstasy. That, in itself, has to be seen to be believed.

If you’re not familiar with the JK Rowling phenomenon (having chosen to live under a rock for the past 21 years), I dare say you won’t get it and won’t understand what the fuss is all about. The whole thing will simply appear to be nonsense. For the rest, this is the equivalent of theatrical gold.

Photo credit: Ben Fon

Puffs keeps the good times rolling without a break. Well, there is an interval (the play runs for the best part of two hours over the two acts), but no interruption to the hilarious scripted verbiage from the 11-strong cast. Among all that, my finest moment was unscripted, as four members of the troupe succumbed to a fit of giggles. You see, it’s a show like that – and the better for it.

As it began, the season was already being extended. So, buy a ticket to Puffs and laugh until you cry. Directed by Kristin McCarthy Parker, it’s playing at the Alex Theatre in St Kilda until 8 July 2018. That includes family-friendly matinees on weekends during which all bad language will be removed.

Alex First

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