It was time to Meet Fred last night. The latest offering from Hijinx Theatre, Fred is a puppet, except he doesn’t know that at first. He soon does though, much to his shock. What follows is a clever, touching and at times hilarious look at life and the obstacles it throws at us (literally at times) through the eyes of two foot high puppet Fred.
Meet Fred is the result of a collaboration and intensive workshop training with Blind Summit. A company that coined the term ‘Extreme puppeteering’ to describe what they do, and it’s easy to see why. Based on the Japanese Bunraku (three man puppetry) Blind Summit coined it for the extremes of emotion that it illicit, but a fitting description for the work the puppeteers do. The puppet operated by Dan McGowan at the head (and voice) along with Morgan Thomas and Craig Quat operating legs and arms. Fred himself is a plain white puppet, expressionless which adds to the experience of ‘projecting’ on to him that becomes so integral to the piece. Really quickly Fred becomes very ‘human’ despite the piece centring on his discovery that he’s a puppet (and general dismay at what life throws at Puppets).
Fred’s life touches on aspects that affect us all, and in particular draws out elements that affect people with disabilities. Fred does battle with the Job Centre and later the DWP (Department of Work and Puppets) as well as the endless loop of ‘you get a job you lose your benefits’. This all culminates in Fred losing his support in the very literal form of his puppeteers, meaning that minus one pair of hands, Fred is minus a pair of legs and hits rock bottom.
It’s a cleverly staged piece, using meta-theatrical techniques involving both the audience and the director- Fred’s real director Ben Pettit-Wade, playing what I’m assured is an exaggerated version of himself. In last night’s performance even the BSL interpreter got involved in things (and while we’re at it the wonderful Anthony Evans is an added bonus to any performance). Which really brings the audience into Fred’s world. Of course Fred’s world doesn’t go quite to plan, from first dates where his handsome puppeteer gets more attention than he does, to an ill-advised drinking binge (and the way the company stage this is truly brilliant) to shouting matches with the director. There’s a little bit of Fred’s life in all of us, and particularly the parts that make bad decisions, a little bit of Fred in all of us.
And it’s not all life lessons and despair (though Fred might disagree). Meet Fred is a really entertaining show, in which Fred really is the star. He may only be two feet tall but there’s a lot of Fred to go around. Whether it’s performing inappropriate dance routines at children’s birthday parties, or his foul-mouthed rant at his director, Fred is a force to be reckoned with.
Although Fred is clearly centre stage, mention should be made to the rest of the cast. From Lindsay Foster, Fred’s date to Richard Newham who gets to enact a revenge we’ve all wanted to at some point, as the obstructive civil servant in the job centre. Finally, Martin Vick, as the Stage Manager who is even more at the mercy of the Director’s rants than Fred, but who gets his revenge (and chance at a dream being Fred’s legs) at the end of the piece. All three are excellent performers who rise to the difficult challenge of performing with a puppet and his three accomplices incredibly well, while also offering brilliant performances in their own right.
I feel I’ve got to know Fred over the past few months, between seeing the scratch performance at The Other Room, and getting to interview the man himself (no, I can no longer consider him a puppet, he’s a person nobody will tell me otherwise). And I’ve grown very attached, do yourselves a favour and go and Meet Fred and see for yourselves.