Puffs Villanova Players

‘Puffs’ // Villanova Players

One of the best aspects of community theatre is the opportunity for emerging performers and creatives to take to the stage. Villanova Players’ latest initiative Start-Ups has created a platform to achieve exactly
this, and with their latest production ‘Puffs’. Made by young people for young people, the new start-up is designed for ages 16-30.

A parody take on the magical world of Harry Potter, even those unfamiliar with the boy with the lightning bolt scar will find ‘Puffs’ a hilarious and entertaining experience. This farcical parody, entertaining Potter fans worldwide since 2015, follows a trio of Puff-ians during their seven-year stint at a certain but not named school of magic. Like a Saturday Night Live sketch, ‘Puffs’ is amusing for newcomers to the Potter universe but truly hilarious for those familiar with its nuances.

The Ron Hurley Theatre at Seven Hills is an intimate theatre with tiered seating for about 150 people, well suited for this size production. There weren’t many lighting effects, but the lights, designed and operated by Ayden McCarthy, did contribute to referencing familiar material, with appropriate colour washes as students were sorted into ‘Brave’, ‘Smart’, ‘Snake’ or ‘Puffs’, subtle nods to the houses within the Potter universe.

Similarly, the sound design by Lillian Dowdell and operated by Jaqueline Kerr was kept simple and used at moments called for in the script. As the theatre is quite small, the choice for no microphones could potentially have worked, as most of the time, the cast could be heard; the exceptions were in moments of
physicality or when blocked facing upstage or talking over laughter when lines were lost.

From the moment audiences enter the theatre, Aimee Sheather’s set feels dwarfed by the towering curtains engulfing it. I suspect this indicates a lack of budget rather than creative thought, a challenge those who work in community theatre know all too well. The set did have some nice small touches within the design, specifically, the Puffs notice board, adorned with an ad for “Free Hugs” alongside a proudly displayed fourth-place ribbon. These small details on the set added moments of delight for the audience members familiar with the references.

The same budget constraints were evident concerning the costuming. However, this contributes wonderfully to the style of the show. The choices made regarding costuming were smart; adding a jacket or shawl combined with the actor’s change in physicality or voice brought to life characters from the universe the audience knows and loves.

Championing a young cast, ‘Puffs’ was brimming with entertaining energy. Priya Shah took commanding control of the stage as the Narrator. Much of the show’s pacing is dictated by the Narrator’s role, and Shah was consistent in her delivery and comedic timing.

The trio, Jackson Paul as Wayne Hopkins, Mia Lierich as Megan Jones, and Jeremy Hales as Oliver Rivers, were individually charming comedians. Lierich’s portrayal of Megan stood out as she brought to life Megan’s evolution from a sullen teen to a proud Puff.

Every track in Puffs presents its own challenge as most in the company cover multiple roles. Many moments sent the audience into rolls of laughter; Sam Connolly’s entrances caused an uproar whether he was portraying Cedrik or Lord Voldy’, Dom Bradley as J.Finch repetitively demonstrated his remarkable physical comedy skills, and Cullyn Beckton got one word out as their faculty role before we could hear no more above the roars of laughter.

The stand out for mastering the dual roles was definitely Hannah Martin; not only did her physicality, voice, and mannerisms change between each of her roles, but she carefully crafted facial expressions for Susie and Harry and kept this consistent throughout, quick changes and all.

The company of eleven were fantastic actors and comedians alone; the one weakness was their ability to work off each other, and this connection between the cast would have elevated the performance to the next level.

‘Puffs’ was a brilliant choice to produce for a young theatrical production, full of satirical tongue-in-
cheek comedy with a structure that allows for an expandable cast with a framing device that lends
itself to incorporate less detailed costuming choices perfect for a community theatre budget. Above
all, it is a hilarious and charming story. For those of us who have experienced moments where we don’t feel “Brave, Smart or like a Snake”, Puffs are the friend you’ve always needed.

‘Puffs’ performed until Sunday, 21 April 2024 at The Ron Hurley Theatre. For more information visit Villanova Players’ website.

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