Review – Meet Fred

Meet Fred – Hijinx in association with Blind Summit – New Wolsey Studio and touring

A play about exclusion that is both disability and puppet led sounded like it could have been just another badly constructed vanity project, yet this piece triumphed from the outset – weaving puppetry with great direction, a telling script and professional execution that created an entertaining and though provoking whole.

Since the focus of funding moved from ethnic diversity to disability The New Wolsey has embraced the opportunity by becoming involved with the ‘Ramps on the Moon’ project and making major efforts to become an inclusive theatre. With the change in focus there has also been an explosion of disability led productions. Graeae Theatre Company paved the way – and over the years they have honed their art. But as with everything, quantity does not always spell quality, however worthy the subject  – and a lot of recent productions have fallen short both in content and standard.

Meet Fred was a breath of fresh air. A well honed example of what can be done to lift the issues to a sustainable level while including those of disability with genuine talent, in a production that was both moving and inspired.

Fred is a puppet – and the play is an exploration of his life – but it is up to Fred how he wants to play it. He can choose the areas he wants to explore – and the outcomes depend on his choices. So we look at his efforts to get a job and a girlfriend, his disastrous attempts to be a children’s entertainer and his rock bottom moment when his PLA (puppetry living allowance) is cut and he loses the puppeteer that controls his legs!

The puppet is a simple rag doll – but is brought to life by a wonderful script and three amazing puppeteers, one of which, Dan McGowan, also does Fred’s voice. Ben Pettitt–Wade is and also plays The Director – a God like figure who controls Fred’s life while seemingly giving him choices. Gareth John is his put upon stage manager Martin, Lindsey Foster plays all the women including the potential but bemused girlfriend and Richard Newman is the jobsworth of a Job Centre Advisor.

Against the back drop of a chalk board discussion of possible outcomes, this was a very humorous, well constructed look at being different – and how in our world that means the odds and the  bureaucratic red tapes of life are really stacked against you.

The piece emerged from workshops and subsequent improvisations held with puppeteers Blind Summit at Hijinx Cardiff Academy which holds professional training for potential actors with learning disabilities. It has since developed into a well rounded sharp and witty production which would speak to a variety of ages, although it must be pointed out that due to the strong language content is probably not suitable for children – which is a pity as I think that’s my only criticism.

A very entertaining and thought provoking evening – more like this please!

Suzanne Hawkes

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