Puffs review: Harry Potter parody hides wit under invisibility cloak

PUFFS
Entertainment Quarter, May 24
★★½

The idea is good: take the minor characters in a well-known work and put them centre stage.

Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead took bit-players from Hamlet, Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea took Jane Eyre’s mad Mrs Rochester, while Ricky Gervais made an entire series about sidelined figures in Extras. The approach can produce rewarding work.

This show takes the Harry Potter series and centres a spoof around the wizard school’s uncool kids – the dags, the nerds and the mediocrities – consigned to the most uncool house, called Puff (a nod to Hufflepuff).

Instead of Harry, Hermione and Ron, there is porky orphan Wayne (Ryan Hawke). He’s a Queenslander – a local reference for this touring production that originated in the US – who is joined by Megan (Angelina Thomson), a sullen, self-loathing goth, and maths nerd Oliver (Oliver Rivers).

Only hunky Cedric Diggory – part heartthrob, part motivational coach – is a non-oddball Puff.

He rouses his hapless housemates into setting a goal – a low one – for the forthcoming House Cup. “Third or nothing!” they cheer.

And for story, that’s about it. With the aid of a narrator, the piece gallops through all seven books in about two and half hours, complete with Dementors, magic mirrors and sorting hats.

This is sketch-comedy aimed at the generation raised on the Harry Potter books (the first published in 1997) and the subsequent movies, judging by the almost exclusively 20-something audience.

The show, written by Matt Cox and directed by Kristin McCarthy Parker, is just one of a number of Potter parodies that tap an undiminished appetite for all things Hogwartian.

If you don’t know Moaning Myrtle from Mad-Eye Moody, the gags might slip by before you can say Riddikulus. And even if you do (I’ve read the books and seen the movies) the slightness of the tale, its blunted humour and the manic pace at which it is all delivered is frustrating.

There are moments of wit, but the jokes are frequently mis-timed, gone in a puff of smoke before they can register. A reliance on silly walks and voices only goes so far.

Like Puff’s subtitle, Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic, the show is overlong and repetitive.

Madeline Bundy’s costumes, props and set – with four doors that invite slapstick – give it a makeshift, am-dram aesthetic.

The acting is uneven across the 13-member cast, but narrator Gareth Isaac and James Bryers (Cedric) are terrific and each has fine comic timing.

So Cedric’s demise midway – and all Pott-heads know what happens to Cedric – kills off one of the most engaging characters. It leaves a hole you could drive a hippogriff through.

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