Think you know puppet shows? Think again. If what you know about puppetry is all Punch and Judy or The Muppets, then you clearly haven’t met Fred. He’s just a puppet, trying to make it in a human world. All he wants is to be an ordinary guy. He wants a job, love, a purpose. There’s just one problem. He’s made of cloth.
If you’re looking for a performance that is cleverly put together, devised by a company that is so beautifully inclusive of any actor, undeterred by disabilities and motivated by passion, then Hijinx Theatre’s Meet Fred (in association with Blind Summit) is the one for you. It had the audience in fits of giggles one minute, with Fred’s inappropriate behaviour at a children’s party, and reduced to tears the next, as Fred hit rock bottom. Truly 5-star.
The set was exceptionally blunt in reminding you that this was a show, painting what was essentially a map of the performance onto 3 boards which stood freely on stage. This helped guide Fred on his journey as The Director ticked off different life events while the scenes went on: Date Night, Bar Scene, Job Centre, etc. The obvious motif of “Rice is Water” was such a funny theme, especially with Fred’s bluntness and defiance of any character trying to tell him it was water. My favourite moment that relied on set and props was in Fred’s battle against the elements; a well placed fan, floating clouds and cotton balls perfectly and hilariously captured how a mere puppet would battle strong weather.
The Director (played by the show’s real life director Ben Petitt-Wade) and Stage Manager, Martin, also constructed and deconstructed scenes to the tune of cheerful elevator music. The minimalism of this helped emphasise how the performance was entirely Fred’s own. The Director also sat amongst the audience as another spectator of the performance, frequently nagging his Stage Manager to set the scene and promptly abandoning Fred as he experienced all the different life milestones of any ‘regular guy’.
The storyline was cleverly crafted and I loved the element of having the director’s input throughout. The puppetry itself was amazing; I have so much respect for the puppeteers (Dan McGowan, Aled Herbert and Sam Harding) for the intricacy and success of their bunraku work. I think what truly sets this performance apart is its ability to make people laugh with basic humour, that is so well amplified by the use of a puppet. As a devised piece, I commend Hijinx for their repurposing of puppetry for adult comedy – they pulled it all off immensely. I also loved the range of scenes in the piece, from a typical blind date gone wrong, to Fred trying his hand at children’s party entertainment, all the way to the ‘end of it all’…- but no spoilers here! Fred was sassy, silly and sarcastic. The acting was flawless and really brought Fred to life, so much so that you began to forget he had three puppeteers guiding the way for him. Although there is a very real edge to this piece, with day-to-day life struggles and the unfair politics of benefit systems, it is overall so much fun.
My favourite personal touch was something I noticed in the programme; to name the character of the Stage Manager ‘Martin’ as a tribute to the late actor, Martin Vick, one of the original performers in Meet Fred until he sadly passed away in December 2016. Although the role has been taken over (wonderfully) by Gareth John, the dedication of the role to Martin was lovely. The show is totally collaborative and welcoming to all performers, crew and audience members and the atmosphere was perfect.
If you still want to catch this tour, it is continuing until May 2017, and I highly recommend you see it where possible. The link to Hijinx’s website is here so you can see if the tour is coming to a theatre near you!
What do you think about puppetry in performance?