The fan-favourite Harry Potter spin-off play, PUFFS: or the seven increasingly eventful years at a certain school of magic and magic, had its Queensland premiere at Brisbane Powerhouse and was a magical feast of laughter from head to tail. The play follows the unexplored story of the kids who don’t get the limelight in the original boy wizard saga.
The Puffs are based on the house ‘Hufflepuff’ and are labelled as the duds of the school as they never win the house cup. The re-cap of the seven years of magic school by the whole ensemble cast is brilliantly comedic with Potter innuendos, poking fun at the main characters from the Potter series. It is as if the camera moves slightly to the left to gain forbidden (forest) access to the other side of the story.
The four houses parallel the Hogwarts houses from Harry Potter and are now named ‘Brave’, ‘Snake’, ‘Smart’ and ‘Puffs.’ PUFFS is an ode to the rise of the underdog with an M15+ twist on the story. The farce-like production mirrors the Potter stories with the three main characters sorted by the giant paper ‘chatterbox’ (sorting hat), which is hilarious if you grew up with them, into the Puffs house and accidentally form a friendship trio.
The first of the trio is the new character Wayne Hopkins played by Ryan Hawke. Wayne is the optimistic Australian boy wizard who is truly a PUFF at heart as he enters the ‘school of magic and magic’ with hope to learn all there is to know about being a wizard. Ryan brilliantly portrays the can-do attitude of the orphan nerd. He tries so hard to be a great wizard but fails a lot. He learns from his idol Cedric Diggory that his failure is all part of being a PUFF.
One of Wayne’s standout moments is when he is depressed about the tragic death of Cedric and he stumbles on to stage from the audience and out of everyone is the most heartbroken to lose his hero. He makes friends with his new PUFF mates Oliver from Ipswich (which made the whole audience burst into a fit of laughter) and wannabe bad-ass, Megan Jones.
Oliver Rivers is played by Adam Marks and is so sure of himself and what he is best at. He is an Aussie kid who is a maths wiz and not a natural wiz-ard. Adam is incredible in this role and brings his inner PUFF to the forefront when he uses maths to find the right angle to fight the Death Buddies in the comical final battle.
Like the trio from the Potter series, Oliver is absolute best friends with his two mates Wayne and Megan. So much so that between the school years they communicate with each other through letters. It soon evolves to the iconic ‘MSN Messenger’, which is very nostalgic to all 90s and early 2000s babies. It sparks a lot of meaningful conversation between them especially in key moments, like when Wayne is upset about Cedric’s death and the others are trying to get through to him or when Megan and Oliver go on their first date.
The ‘tough’ girl who is against being a PUFF, Megan Jones is played by the incredibly gifted, Angelina Thomson. Megan is misunderstood and resists the idea that she was sorted into the nice, kind, bubbly PUFFS house for magic school. She doesn’t feel like she is any of those things as her mother played by the incomparable, Annabelle Tudor is evil and is locked up in ‘Wiz Priz’, the equivalent of Azkaban wizard jail.
Angelina is so fierce but also sensitive in this role and her character, Megan has wonderful on stage connections to her friend Wayne and soon boyfriend, Oliver. She is always surprised and says ‘oh my wizard God.’ She learns she is very much a PUFF at heart. She is kind to her peers and when she reunites with her mother, she learns she is one too. Her Mum is particularly awkward and uncoordinated at doing spells however much she tries to be sinister.
The iconic character from the fourth Harry Potter film, Cedric Diggory is portrayed by the dashing James Bryers. His role is much bigger in this comical parody than the books or films as you see him as the ‘leader’ of the PUFFS from Year 1 of the trio’s school life. James is tremendous at personifying Cedric as he teaches the younger wizards in his house how to work on their magic. This is especially true with Wayne as he is a giant role model to him.
One of the greatest moments was in Year 4 when he competes in the equivalent of the ‘Tri-wizard tournament.’ He gets help from Wayne with the book of creatures he made him and then learns from ‘Harry’ the first task is dragons. Cedric subsequently has a fun scene in the girl’s bathroom as he meets ‘Moaning Myrtle’ and the other PUFFs pretend to be the funny bath urchins and links arms as he discovers the clue for the next task. Once Cedric passes away in the final task James took over the role of another main character from the series.
James Bryers in Act 2 embodies the evil ‘Lord Voldemort’ and is brilliant at playing the most powerful but terribly oblivious magical being. In this satire production he wears a bright lime green bodysuit from head to toe with tape on his nose, referencing the absence of his nose throughout the series. James nails the sultry high voice as he uses his megaphone to ‘scare’ the students into surrendering Harry, but instead he isn’t successful as he forgets the megaphone is on and starts talking about trivial things like yoga and radiantly breaks the fourth wall with the audience.
One of the most fun-loving new characters in the play is Leanne. The bubbly Lauren McKenna portrays this wonderful student that has been home schooled by her grandma and hasn’t had much socialisation. She is thrilled that she is learning magic to begin with as she constantly exclaims ‘We’re wizards’ and is the perfect example of the awkward blissful PUFF. During the second task in Year 4’s tournament Lauren was hilarious as she states what everyone was thinking when task 2 begins, that they are all just looking out at the lake and can’t see anything for a whole hour.
During the Yule Ball scene Leanne and Wayne slow dance together and she awkwardly holds his butt down low and makes the audience giggle throughout the ‘really short slow dance song.’ Lauren really shows Leanne’s tough side during the final battle. She breaks out the kung-fu and double wand style, and takes out an entire squad of Death Buddies like the strong PUFF she is.
The entire ensemble of PUFFS are all rock stars at personifying a myriad of roles throughout the seven year journey and change props to alter characters including the school professors. They are the heart of the show and band together to stay super average and collectively try to not be last place as they all chant ‘3rd or nothing.’ When everything is going wrong and the main characters get attacked they go into their ‘Puff formation’ and say in unison ‘We are not a threat, please be our friends.’ It defines who the group of students are and you see their quirks and that all they want, is to be seen at school.
Another highlight is during their trip to ‘Hogsmede’ as third years they all get really ‘drunk’ on Butterbeer and they are just beer bottles with the butter brand ‘Westernstar’ stuck to the front. This scene is very entertaining to witness as they are falling over themselves and at the end the Narrator played by the hilariously witty, Gareth Isaac yells out, ‘You are thirteen!’ and everyone in the audience is cackling in their seats.
PUFFS is the celebration of the anti-hero and revealing the human behind the wizard. Come for the familiarity of the Potter world and stay for the awkward hysterically funny misfits that will leave you in a state of joy and appreciation for the loners and outsiders in the world. The Off-Broadway cult phenomenon plays at Brisbane Powerhouse until 29 September, don’t miss out.
PUFFS: The Play
Playing now until 29 September
All photos – Supplied