I am not a fan of one-person shows. I feel like you have to present a story REALLY, REALLY well in order to make the story truly come alive, while most one person shows I have seen have people present a story, or a perspective that, well, the audience doesn’t care about. Cliff Cardinal however has taken the concept of a one person show, and turned it into a masterclass of storytelling with his play “HUFF”. It truly was a complex, gut-wrenching journey through despair, identity, belonging, and at the same time, hope. It is a raw and unapologetic exploration of the human condition, delivered through a savagely funny yet profoundly narrative. It’s easy to see why this show is so critically acclaimed. 

“HUFF is the savagely funny and harrowing tale of Wind and his brothers as they struggle with their mother’s death, a reserve school system that’s failing them, and a solvent-abuse problem. Wind’s fantastic, gas-induced dream world blurs his harsh reality in this powerful, disturbing, and comic tale of family, love, and despair.”

At the core of “HUFF”, there lies a beautiful example of how lines between fantasy and reality can blur for a number of reasons. Wind, the central character, finds comfort in a gas-induced dream world, where for a few moments he (and his younger brother specifically) find escape. Through Cardinal’s masterful storytelling, the audience is drawn into Wind’s psyche, experiencing the highs and lows of his tumultuous journey.

Cardinal exquisitely balances moments of gut-wrenching despair with bursts of laugh-out-loud dark humor, creating a rollercoaster of sensations that keep viewers on the edge of their seats. He can move seamlessly from character to character, weaving his world from an incredibly simple set. 

Sydney – January 22, 2017: A scene from Huff, showing at the 2017 Sydney Festival (photo by Jamie Williams/Sydney Festival)

What I admire most about Cardinal’s performance is his commitment and dedication to his storytelling. As Wind and a host of other characters, he commands the stage with an intensity that is both mesmerizing and unsettling. His ability to inhabit each role with authenticity and depth is captivating, holding the audience captive from start to finish. I don’t want to give too much away, but the opening scene is incredibly uncomfortable, and we as the audience don’t get to ease up for the entire production. At points, he beats himself, covers himself in tomatoes, and plays both victim and perpetrator all in the same breath. I also don’t know someone who could portray a badass skunk so hilariously. 

In the intimate setting of the Crow’s Theatre, the impact of “HUFF” is amplified, allowing viewers to immerse themselves fully in Wind’s world. The minimalist yet effective staging, combined with grade A, spot-on lighting, and sound design/cues, further enhances the production’s emotional resonance.

Sydney – January 22, 2017: A scene from Huff, showing at the 2017 Sydney Festival (photo by Jamie Williams/Sydney Festival)

To be honest, by the end of the show, my jaw was on the floor. I was stunned into silence at the power and magnitude of this pay, and left quite a lasting impression on me.  It is a testament to the power of theatre to shine a light on society’s most pressing issues and to the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity. Cliff Cardinal’s performance in “HUFF” a must-see for anyone seeking a profound and unforgettable theatrical experience.

This run closes on April 28, 2024, so please grab a ticket if you can! 

[Review by Shan Fernando]