PUFFS @ Heathcote Cultural Precinct gets 8/10

Puffs, or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic
@ Heathcote Cultural Precinct
Saturday, October 3, 2020


If this review of Puffs, presented by Murdoch Theatre Company with their talented cast, were to be reduced to one word, it would be clever. The script, written by New York-based playwright Matt Cox, is witty-as-can-be, a comedic retelling and summary of the Harry Potter series…but from the perspective of the Hufflepuffs; and for this production, mainly the story of Wayne the wizard from Tassy.

And why not? Just because the Puffs weren’t the main protagonists of Rowling’s series, does not mean their experiences aren’t a story worth telling! Murdoch Theatre Company’s rendition of this spin-off play was funny, fun and brought to life by a glittering cast almost all of whom played more than one part with aplomb. Hats off to director Stephanie Ferguson.

The performance space for the Heathcote Cultural Precinct is fairly small, but clever set design and simple but effective lighting design by Stephanie Ferguson evoked any part of Hogwarts required scene by scene…whether the Puffs’ common room, the classroom, the Room of Requirement, or the scary, shifting corridors of the magical castle. Particularly astute was the use of many fake doors, allowing the few entrances available to be multiplied, adding to the magic and unpredictability of the play.

The cast of twelve was often onstage all at the same time, yet, through good blocking and minimal but effective use of props, there was never a feeling of overcrowding. Particularly enjoyable were the group scenes and one could clearly see how much time had gone into perfecting the choreography for them.  As this is a tale of seven years’ worth of misadventures all piled into 90-odd minutes, the action was quick and the actors were energetic, all moving extremely well and keeping up the intensity of a frenetic but well-paced show.

The action was narrated brilliantly by Courtney Maldo in a standout performance on the night. While the entire cast did a wonderful job, Sarah Lewis as Oliver is a must-mention, Lewis’ characterisation of this dorky, math whizz from Albany was faultless and thoroughly enjoyable. Sean Wcislo played J Finch-Fletchley with hilarious energy and great physical acting, and Rosalie Schneider as Leanne as well as Helga Hufflepuff was endearing and brilliant.

Keiran Trembath as Wayne, the wizard whose school years we were closely following, was a likeable character, however, Trembath was occasionally difficult to hear as he rushed through and swallowed his lines from time to time. James Boucaut as Cedric and later as “He Who Must Not Be Named” was also a highlight, particularly for his ability to fully inhabit whichever character he played with the utmost confidence.

With plenty of witty references to the Harry Potter series, both from the movies as well as the books, the plot was anchored regularly, never allowing the story of the Puffs to veer too far from the series in terms of timeline. This was also achieved through some of the actors (or sometimes even a mop!) doubling as the famous Gryffindors. A particularly hilarious example of this was actor Melody Castledine, who mainly played Puff Suzie Bones, expertly jumping in and out of Harry Potter as a character, playing Potter as an ultra diva. This made the play easy to follow, for Potter experts as well as audience members who may have only seen a movie or two.

Murdoch Theatre Company clearly had an absolute ball putting this show together, and kudos to them for being able to pick this production up again after it was long delayed by the pandemic that has put a stop to many artistic endeavours this year. If the company decides to reprise this show in the future, it is highly recommended for a fun, utterly enjoyable escapist time.


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