It’s always risky to say on your first day at the Fringe that you’ve seen the show that will stay with you, but I think Meet Fred from Hijinx really was an experience that will not be easily forgotten. Puppet theatre of a very high standard, a committed and inclusive company and a devised but tightly-formed script came together to provide a performance that engaged emotions and intellect.
Fred is a puppet and is having trouble coming to terms with that fact; and he greatly resents the way he is only seen as a puppet and not as a person. The state can only see him as a children’s entertainer (no audience for adult puppet theatre, this audience of adults are told), he is in danger of losing his Puppetry Living Allowance, and he is struggling to form relationships.
The intricacies of this meta-performance are further developed through the character of the irascible onstage Director (also the real-life but hopefully less irritable Director) and the disaffected Stage Manager.
The three puppeteers who play Fred interact with the four actors playing the people he meets, and music, lighting and interactive set design are of a very high standard. There are many stunning theatrical moments, such as when Fred suddenly makes for a member of the audience, or the heart-breaking moments when he is shown very graphically that he is just one among many puppets, or when he has to choose which of his three puppeteers to jettison.
Hijinx Theatre have worked with puppet supremos Blind Summit on this production, and it shows. The route Fred takes from inappropriate children’s entertainer, in a very funny scene, to his decline through taking to drink and eventual thoughts of suicide is beautifully portrayed. It is a cliché to say that the audience laughed and then cried, but many of us did just that. Hijinx work with learning disabled actors, and though doing so, alongside Blind Summit, they have created an unforgettable dramatic event. If you can get a ticket, do go.