There must surely be millions of Harry Potter devotees who have absorbed JK Rowling’s books, the blockbuster movie adaptations and, of course, the stage play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. It goes without saying, therefore, that sooner or later someone would have a go at satirising this literary phenomenon. But I have to say – in the case of Puffs – it’s with mixed results. This has nothing at all to do with the direction or magnificent cast – the play is the thing!
With some significant success on off-off-Broadway, Matt Cox’s Puffs (or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic) is a physical comedy extravaganza that pokes fun at Harry Potter by cramming the seven books (yes, all in the space of a couple of hours) into a high-speed, insane farce.
In the books and films, the Hufflepuffs were essentially a minor house at Hogwarts School, but here its members are the centrepiece. If you are not a Harry Potter aficionado, however, it would be quite difficult to keep track of the numerous colourful characters that inhabit this play.
The original books’ intrepid triumvirate of heroes – Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley – are sidelined, with Hermione and Ron not (at least physically) even in evidence! Instead, in the centre we have another trio – Wayne (an unlikely US apprentice wizard), Megan (who doesn’t want to be a Hufflepuff) and Oliver (the mathematician nerd). And, of course, there are numerous other characters – students and teachers – who contribute to the mayhem of the performance.
It is this insanity that makes the performance work. Had the direction not been so exacting, the cast not so infectious and the staging not so well-executed (great costumes by Kathleen Brabon and set by Brendan O’Connor), then it would not reach the level it does. It is a tribute to the talent and precision of Terri Brabon (with co-director Emma Lamberton) that a success could still be made out of this play.
Clearly, it’s a perfect vehicle to showcase the prodigious talent among the 15-strong cast, all of whom are part of TheatreiNQ’s Bridge Project, the company’s unique and remarkable training program that prepares our regional talent for tertiary education in theatre arts. Brabon inspires these young people to become the personification of youthful dedication and enthusiasm, giving heart to the future of theatre in Australia. Would that there were more training programs like this that give actors and theatre folk such a solid grounding.
What emerges is a terrific ensemble affording a group of varying theatre experience an opportunity to show what they are made of in an exacting two-hour performance that is delivered at such a fast pace so as to leave one gasping. The entire performance gives the students the best possible opportunity to develop discipline, comic timing, stage technique and characterisation, all wrapped up in physical comedy.
The play does have its moments – it is possible to find laughter among all the mayhem, with the comedy varying from challenging physicality to silly wordplay and even the corny.
Leading the cast is Ashleigh Dodson as the narrator. This confident performer grows with every performance, assisted by a strong natural stage presence and a genuine ease in the spotlight.
Others of note in the large cast are Nicholas Rose as Wayne and Brandon Gibbs as Cedric, with the entire ensemble contributing a variety of delightful vignettes along the way.
A Bridge Project Production, featuring the talents of TheatreiNQ’s next generation
Clubhouse Theatre, Townsville, Queensland
Directors: Terri Brabon and Emma Lamberton
Stage Manager/Lighting Design: Daniel Lobley
Sound Design/Operator: Fionn Baker-Goodson
Set Design and Construction: Brendan O’Connor
Costumes: Kathleen Brabon
Production Assistants: The Bridge Project
Cast: Ashleigh Dodson, Nicholas Rose, Charlotte Davies, Kaden Ramm, Emma Smith, Lara Hodgson, Lily Bartlett, Ally Armitage-Cosgrove, Alyssandra Higgins, Hunter Sams, George Abednego, Connor Boon, Brandon Gibbs
Puffs will be performed until 1 July 2023.