Miriam Margolyes is one of those rare and special people who truly deserves the title of “national treasure”. There are any number of reasons; her fifty plus years of contributions to the theater and film industry, from London to Melbourne and back again. Her political and social activism. Her lovable British-dear-darling personality. The fact that she referred to herself as a “dyke” on national television. The glorious moment she eloquently and intelligently tore to pieces another old lady on ABC’s “Q&A” for the frankly racist suggestion that Australian children shouldn’t be reading Dickens in school, rather Patrick White, for no other reason than that the former is English and the latter is not. Or perhaps it is the fact that, unlike so many Australian treasures, most of whom become expats no sooner than they begin to make a mark on our industry, Miriam Margolyes chose this place to call home, elected to become a citizen, and left behind her birthplace to be an Australian.
To the younger generation, she is arguably best known as Professor Pomona Sprout in the “Harry Potter” films, and for this reason, she joined us at the St. George’s Ball in St. Kilda to celebrate the launch of the debut Australian run of Matt Cox’s “Puffs; Or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic”, but forget we mentioned Potter. This, evidently, is not about him.
“We’re here today to announce a thing,” she said, with the rigor and bombast one expects of a true British thespian, some things a change of citizenship cannot alter, you see. “And that thing is a play. A play happening at the Alex Theatre, commencing on the 31st of May…write this down, darlings, this is your job.”
She must have caught me having a chuckle.
“For seven long years, a certain boy wizard went to a certain school, in the process appearing in several books, films, games and on the packages of various items and electrical devices. You may have heard of him. Now the play we announce today is not that boy’s story.”
Clearly Rowling’s estate is not involved in this one.
“This is the story of the Puffs, a loveable bunch who come to that school to learn about plants,” she stopped, giving us that famous smile, the cheeky liveliness of which age shall never wither. “But due to that certain boy wizard, they fail…Puffs is a wonderful, loving, hilarious tribute to the underdogs. A story that says you don’t have to be a hero to have a wonderful story told about you.”
Where did this thing come from? There was never going to be a conventional answer.
“Puffs opened off-Broadway in 2015…” she stopped, looked up. “It’s strange, when you’re old, every day is nineteen hundred and something. Anyway…the play was only scheduled for ten shows. But it proved to be more popular than expected, and has since been seen by some forty thousand people.”
There will be two versions of the show, given it’s vague connection to…let’s say a certain franchise…there had to be something for the family.
“Matinee shows will be kid-friendly,” Miriam confirmed. “I will not be allowed to appear. So, you have to come twice: Matinee, nice. Night show, dirty.”
“If you strive for third place, instead of fourth,” she continued. “Puffs is the show for you.”
Director Kristin McCarthy Parker was not available for comment, but the show is in fantastic hands, it seems. A freelance director from New York City, and founding member of Recent Cutbacks, her resume boasts “Puffs” for New World Stages, “Kapow-I GoGo”, and for her own company, “KEVIN!!!”, “Hold on to Your Butts” (Jurassic Park is to this what Harry Potter is to Puffs?) and “Fly, You Fools!” (that’s The Lord of the Rings – you won’t get movie references past me!). She has worked all over the States, and we hope she feels right at home here in Melbourne.