‘PUFFS’ was bewitching.
Magic and wonder are in no short supply at Spotlight Theatre this year, and after pushbacks from the pandemic-who-shall-not-be-named, the Halpin Auditorium has thrown open its doors to present their first season offering- ‘PUFFS’, or ‘Seven Increasingly Eventful Years At a Certain School of Magic and Magic’.
This spin-off style production is set on the same timeline as the ever-popular book series but tells the story of the PUFFS, an endearing group of outsiders as they traverse adulthood amid a wizarding war. It satirises the story and gives it a heartfelt and humorous spin with a huge dose of teenage angst.
The auditorium was fully decked out with yellow and black PUFFS banners and bunting, and nostalgic high-school style PA announcements rang out through the theatre, transporting the audience before the show had even begun.
The technical aspects of the show were executed to near perfection and all of the creatives clearly know their stuff when it comes to the story of a certain boy wizard. Lighting design by Jamie Watt was colourful and dynamic, providing that extra element of magic that only a well-designed lighting cue can. The set was functional and welcomed the audience into the PUFFS’ common room. The ingeniously designed platform at the back of the stage provided an extra element of drama to the more serious plot points.
Hannah Crowther added some choreography magic to the show, bringing each one of the PUFFS’ absurd defence formations to gleeful life.
Costume design by Millie Talbot complemented each character’s lovable personalities and gifted every professor, house-elf and ghost with a real sense of craftiness, which only heightened the comedy of the show.
Another form of real magic was present on the Spotlight stage-the magic of stagehands. A carefully hidden stagehand made props look like they were moving all on their own, and character interactions with the stage managers were a perfectly timed addition to this romp.
Director Mitchell Walsh has a reverence for classic comedic theatrical devices and his direction was nothing short of inspired, utilising the unique space to its full extent. He is a director who knows how to reach out to an audience; make them laugh, make them cry, but most importantly, make them happy.
The entire cast of ‘PUFFS’ were quick on their feet and incredibly confident. Each one of them barely left the stage, executed an eye-watering amount of character changes and worked fabulously as an ensemble. Nathan French as Wayne, the nerdy and not-so-talented wizard, was brilliantly authentic. His portrayal felt grounded and real, which allowed him to take the crowd through the character’s emotional arc and truly touch the audience. James Blee as math wiz Oliver Rivers, and Sarah Hunt as Megen Jones, an unwilling PUFF with punk sensibility, were relatable and gave voice to all the times we felt out of place and lost growing up. The trio played effortlessly off each other and were so fun to watch in action.
Walsh also played the show’s narrator, a role that requires a very rare comic ability, which Walsh delivered in abundance. He was able to build a camaraderie with the audience and guided us through the story with a sense of sophistication and whimsy.
The ensemble work in ‘PUFFS’ requires actors who have real trust and care for each other, and this cast delivered. Alexander O’Connell as Cedric was cartoonishly upbeat and his portrayal of Voldy absolutely charmed the audience. Rory Shiele as J.Finch and Hannah Crowther were comedic superstars, and Millie Talbot as Bippy the house-elf was a personal favourite of the night. Jayden Proctor as Ernie Mac ran through a dizzying amount of characters and brought an expert wit to each of them.
Standouts in the ensemble were Chelsea Doran, who played a beautifully satirical version of the titular wizard from the original franchise, and Kristen Barrows as Leanne, the always optimistic wizard who’s just really excited to be there.The cast built a world that made the audience sincerely care about each one of these adorable oddballs.
In a show with enough costume changes and prop cues to make a stage manager quake in their Doc Martens, something will inevitably go wrong-but this is all the fun of ‘PUFFS’. The cast had a joke for every occasion, an improvised bit for every mishap and awe-inspiring ease and tenacity on stage. As John Lithgow once said, “make a pact with an audience and they’ll follow you anywhere”. This brilliant cast took us wherever they desired, and the audience followed with pleasure.
There is truly nothing more entertaining to watch in a theatre than cast members having fun. This year has not given the arts industry the new beginning we hoped for, but shows like Spotlight’s ‘PUFFS’ remind us exactly why the arts are so important. The theatre can transport us into a story of magic and provide some much-needed escapism from a world that isn’t always so accepting of our differences as this band of misfits are of each other. In times like these, we need nothing more than to remember the unbridled joy, love and dorkiness of the PUFFS.
‘PUFFS’ performs until Sunday, 6 February 2022 at Spotlight Theatre. For more information visit the Spotlight Theatre website.
Photos by Vargo Studios.