Before Twilight, before The Hunger Games, but definitely after The Famous Five, teen readers were infatuated with the fantastic world of Harry Potter, a boy who represented the millennial ideals of achieving widespread celebrity without actually having done anything. But this show is not about him- seriously if JK's lawyers (as in Rowling, not Simmons) ask any questions be sure to tell them this show, PUFFS, has absolutely nothing to do with Harry Potter.
PUFFS is a laugh-out-loud tale about a very familiar seven-year saga and it somehow manages to be an endearing ode to and a searing piss-take of the source material at the same time. Best yet, it's a show where the cast are having so much fun, which makes PUFFS a real must-see for any former teenage Pott-heads.
Written by Matt Cox and premiered off-Broadway, PUFFS introduces audiences to the experience of being at a particular school during a particular time when a lot of particular things happened through the eyes of a group of students often overlooked in the more popular story - except for that one guy who was famous for a short period of time, and then went on to be in another teen fiction adaptation that made him more famous. Right there is the delightful humour of PUFFS that weaves its own hilarious narrative in with casual digs at the books and the film adaptations along with a tonne of fantastic references to the nineties and noughties culture they were created in. That might be a bit bamboozling but the bottom line is that its bloody brilliant!! So brilliant that even people who thought Harry Potter was lame are likely to love it, even if a great deal of the jokes go over their heads...Muggles, right?!
It is a testament to the way this show has been built that it has maintained a great deal of its original cast, all of whom are sensational, comedic geniuses. Keith Brockett, Ryan Hawke and Eva Seymour have the biggest challenge as they're charged with the pathos within a zinger-filled script, but they each leave a mark (get it?). The belly laughs chiefly belonged to Daniel Cosgrove and Matt Whitty, with their respective turns as sports coach Zac Smith and a brooding Potions Master. Tammy Weller was funny enough to give anyone asthma with her dizzy and dunderheaded Leanne, but perhaps the biggest spell of all was cast by Rob Mills who proved he doesn't need to sing to smash a stage performance. Mills' turns as the afamed but short-lived Puff and then the villain guy no-one can remember the name of were genuinely hilarious which was a real thrill. Zenya Carmellotti, Olivia Charalambous and Annabelle Tudor each made great impressions in the bevvy of roles they flitted between to great comedic effect. Perhaps the most magical member of cast was Gareth Isaac as the Narrator whose presence kept us all from getting lost in the Floo of the show.
Much is to be said for the work by director Kristin McCarthy Parker to keep the energy of the show even, manage a great deal of comings, goings and character shifts, as well as maintain the magic of a piece like this that holds such great cultural weight for audiences. Although the pace of the show made it hard to engage with characters' emotional moments, PUFFS is an absolute hoot of a show. Brian Hoes' composition made for a seamless journey and a couple of earworms (Finchin Around is still in my head and you'll be hearing from my psychoanalyst), while Madeleine Bundy must be commended on generating an aesthetic with costume, set and puppetry that is so much more than a tribute but gives PUFFS its own space and sense of universe.
So don't spend your evening playing with your wands or glued to the magic box. Get yourself Sorted, make sure you've managed your mischief and head down to the Alex Theatre to go badger the PUFFS!
Tickets available here.
Images by Ben Fon.