Meet Fred is the new comedy theatre puppet show by inclusive company Hijinx in association with Blind Summit. The production toured across Wales from 26 February to 9 March. Tom Wentworth was strung along to one of the dates.
Have you met Fred? If not, you should. But a word of warning, Fred might not be who you expect…Fred is a cloth puppet who arrives in a box and is perhaps even more surprised than the audience to find himself at the centre of his own life story. Director Ben Pettitt-Wade plays – yes, you guessed it – a rather tyrannical director who pushes Fred into the limelight. Fred himself is a delight, voiced with an amazing energy by Dan McGowan, who also puppeteers him alongside Morgan Thomas and Craig Quat. One of the most fascinating elements of the show is the way in which the three work together to bring Fred to life in front of our eyes, with a clarity of movement that I have never seen from a puppet before.
Hijinx are well known for their excellent and fruitful collaborations with companies such as Punchdrunk. Meet Fred is no exception, with the company teaming up with puppetry company Blind Summit (initially running a residency for Hijinx Academy students). This week led to the creation of this highly original show.
So you're thinking that Meet Fred is just a puppet show, right? Wrong. Fred is 'different' and faced with the same problems as many. For example, when questioning why he cannot be paid for appearing in his own show, Pettitt-Wade explains the issues around the benefits system – if Fred is paid he is likely to lose his PLA (Puppet Living Allowance)! This is also played out during a particularly telling, if not rather expositional, scene where Job Centre advisor (played by Richard Newnham) tells him that if he does not get a job he will lose one of his puppeteers which forms the dramatic spine of the narrative – and highlights this hot topic through fresh eyes.
Fred's troubles don't end there, as he goes on a disastrous blind date, meets his maker, becomes a children's entertainer and in a particularly brilliant sequence does battle with the wind, rain and flying cutlery. A special mention should be given to Jonathan Dunn's composed theme music which whistled its way through my head for two days afterwards.
For me however, one of the best and most moving performances in Meet Fred was by Martin Vick, who towards the end of the piece is promoted by Fred himself to part of the puppetry team and by doing so steals the show, the hearts of the audience and left a little tear in my eye at the end.
Meet Fred is an original exploration of what it means to be different and Hijinx should be applauded for their creativity. It feels that under Ben Pettitt-Wade’s Artistic Directorship the company has grown up, beginning to make work which both seeks to satisfy its loyal audience but also looks outwards to find new audiences. They will find them.