Having never seen a Hijinx theatre production before I was very excited to watch ‘Meet Fred’ in the Sherman Theatre. What I realise about Hinjinx as a company is that they know how to do theatre in its purest form with an important emphasis of inclusivity which is fantastic to watch. Meet Fred itself is a deeply layered piece of theatre which allows the audience to read into the story as much or as little as they want to.
The story follows Fred who through the story realises they are a puppet but what he wants is to be is a regular guy. In the story, he is threatened with the loss of his PLA (Puppet Living Allowance) and this causes his ‘life’ to spiral out of control. Because of this, the play includes some very mature scenes and very strong language making it not appropriate for a younger audience.
The clever thing about this play is that as Fred is aware he is a puppet he becomes aware of his puppeteers, the Director etc which means when they include references to the audience or when the actors attempt fourth wall break it makes logical sense which makes a much more enjoyable watch.
This play showcased the traditional Japanese form of puppetry called Bunkraku. I was constantly surprised at the skills of ventriloquism and how the puppeteers expressed emotion which is especially astonishing as the puppet is completely blank with no face. The talented puppeteers (Llyr Williams and Nick Haliwell and especially the voice of Fred, Bryn Fitch) were able to perfectly physicalise the puppets emotions and bring Fred truly to life. Puppetry is a very difficult skill especially if you are an actor as the traditional forms of expression are not applicable but the performers didn’t seem to struggle at all which is a testament to their skill and talent.
Hijinx is a theatre company that focus on inclusivity of theatre and this play demonstrated that perfectly. To start with there was a BSL interpreter on the stage throughout which is where other theatre company would stop but Hijinx went a lot further. One of the highlights in this show for me was Martin (played by Gareth John) who played the Stage Manager. As stated in the Directors notes, he has Down Syndrome, he was one of the funniest roles in this show and also tugged in the audience heartstrings during the more emotional parts of the show. He managed to manipulate the audience emotions perfectly which shows his life acting talent. It’s not just the people in the show that show how the story aims to improve inclusivity.
A very important message that many people might have missed is the importance of the puppeteers in the message of the play. The puppeteers help Fred live his life and it is an obvious reference to dependence many people with disabilities have on others. The inclusion of PLA (Puppetry Living Allowance) as obviously a play in words of DLA (Disability Living Allowance) which again only adds to the reference of disability and inclusion. Another nice touch was the inclusion of stage management as an on-stage role which brings this often unnoticed role into the spotlight is beneficial for those in the backstage crew (myself included.)
Overall this was an incredible piece of conceptual theatre that contained a strong sense of inclusivity. Feeling many different emotions throughout and showcased a relatively unknown art form. I would rate this show 5 out of 5 stars and cannot wait to see what Hijinx will produce in the future.