Review ‘Meet Fred’ Hijinx Theatre by Gemma Treharne-Foose

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5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5) – Unmissable

Imagine being cast in a role you had no idea you were expected to play. You hadn’t even been invited to the audition. Instead you are plonked uncomfortably and awkwardly in the spotlight. The script is already written for you and you are presented with a comically ridiculous set of choices and no map to navigate through. Did I forget to mention that as you are trying to navigate through and find your feet, those in charge will periodically cut the budget leaving you powerless (or in Fred’s case, legless….in more ways than one!).

As part of the company’s Unity Festival, Hijinx (in association with Blind Summit) depict the harsh realities of people – with learning disabilities or otherwise – who have the misfortune of encountering the dreaded ‘system’. Using the Japanese art of ‘Bunraku’, a traditional form of puppet theatre, the company innovatively develop Fred’s story and we see the physical hurdles and ridiculous red tape slowly building up to Fred’s breaking point. Special credit must be given to the three puppeteers who so skilfully manipulate the simple cloth puppet, the level of detail in his movement and the execution of the physical comedy in the piece is absolutely superb. You won’t want to take your eyes off Fred and as the set and settings within the play are moved around, we are introduced to additional characters, all playing an often unwelcome part in Fred’s so-called ‘co-production’. There are real innovative and stand out scenes throughout: Fred’s encounter with a job-centre official and the absurd jobs they offer him (or threaten to stop his ‘Puppetry Living Allowance’), a hilariously-choreographed dance scene and the subsequent drinking session that follows and Fred fighting through the elements as cast members create a wind tunnel/rain storm.

The script is super sharp and clever without having too much of a sting and the cast (especially puppeteer Dan McGowan as the voice of Fred) is first class. At one point, the fourth wall is broken and the audience becomes part of the action as Fred tried to entertain children at a birthday party – the audience become part of the party too. The audience at Porter’s ‘The Other Room’, a theatre/pub venue were clearly moved and fully engaged with the piece. We were all rooting for Fred as the Director (or ‘twat in the green hat’ as Fred describes him) leads him to despair. We are called to question the outdated and elitist attitudes and myths that are still so prevalent. There is a heart-breaking scene where Fred – set up on a date encounters a clearly disgusted Lucille. ‘Am I not what you were expecting?’ says Fred, shrinking before us.

In a post-Brexit age of austerity, of care plans and service managers and outcomes and all the corporate jargonese that dehumanises and distances us from actual feelings and real life – it’s easy to overlook that underneath the paperwork and formalities, there is a person with a voice and ideas of their own (if people just care to listen). This collaborative, devised piece is one of the most creative and original pieces I have seen in a long time. ‘Meet Fred’ is a script with teeth. This is about the freedom to make choices without fear of repercussions and the freedom to write your own script. Hijinx manage to perfectly walk the line between edgy and impactful theatre without bringing you down. Go experience this piece, Meet Fred yourself…your life will be richer for it.

Type of show: Theatre

Title: Meet Fred
Venue: The Other Room
Dates: 28th
Author: Devised by Hijinx Theatre
Director: Ben Pettitt-Wade
Ben Pettitt-Wade: Director
Ceri James: Lighting Designer
Tom Ayres: Technician
Martin Vick: Stage Manager
Dan McGowan: Puppeteer & Voice of ‘Fred’
Morgan Thomas: Puppeteer
Craig Quat: Puppeteer
Lindsay Foster: Lucille and The Maker
Richard Newnham: Jack
Tom Espina & Giulia Innocenti of Blind Summit: Puppetry Dramaturg
Running time: 60mins

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