I spent my Monday afternoon interviewing a small puppet with a lot of personality. Everyone, meet Fred:
Fred’s new show, apty called Meet Fred, is touring with Hijinx theatre company (scroll down for more information)
Fred. (Photograph Johnathan Dunn)
Fred is a unique character, but with a story which is universal. As director Ben Pettit-Wade says during my chat with Fred ‘Fred always feels that the world is creating problems for him, but in a lot of situations there’s the potential that the outcome could be very different if Fred acted differently.’ Fred meanwhile is quick to blame others around him (and the director given half a chance) saying; ‘I always hope for the good things in life, or nice stuff but it’s probably safe to say that my hopes and expectations might be, how can I put this politely, confounded’. It’s clear that Fred and his director disagree on many things, Fred clearly a little frustrated at his life being taken over quite so fully. He even comments that he rarely gets out and about on tour, due to being put in a box by his director. However it’s clear none of that is going to stop Fred any time soon, and director or no world domination will surely follow….But I’ll come back to that.
Meet Fred is, in the words of the puppet himself him as a bit of an everyman. Taking on situations that all of us encounter from time to time, from dating life, to dealing with government burarcracy. This last point forms some of the more serious undercurrents in Meet Fred, as Pettit-Wade explains:
For I guess some of the difficulties that people face, especially with regards to some of the people that we work with at Hijinx theatre with a learning disability. Situations for example with the benefits systems, with people’s support being taken from them and the effect that has on a person. And we explore that to the extreme, but that extreme is a reality in a lot of cases.’
This is something actor Richard Newnham is keen to add as well, playing the character of the jobcentre employee making Fred’s life more difficult he says of his role;
‘My scene is partly based on things we’ve gone through-like everyone has to go to the jobcentre and prove they’ve been looking for work and it’s so frustrating. I’ve been through it a lot. In this scene I’m on the other side, a bit of revenge and showing off what it’s like on the other side.’
Richard also provides the most apt description I’ve heard of this particulr breed of civil servant, saying ‘He’s a man who has everything and nothing all at once’.
And Fred becomes a bit of a metaphor for the struggles everyone, and in particular some of the people Hijnx work for, go through on a regular basis. Fred himself is highly entertaining, but also gives us some serious things to reflect on as an audinece.
But what then of the puppet himself? what’s next? Well so far he’s been using his new found fame as a platform for some superb Michael Jackson impersonations:
But if musical fame doesn’t come calling (or in fact if it does) Fred shares his other ambitions: ‘Either a career in politics, setting up puppet rights, or stand up comedy. Actually I may combine the two.’ Fred is keen to show me his political knowledge offering a detailed response on the EU situation, not least the important issue of going on holiday being far easier in the EU. This line of questioning is cut short however when once again a disagreement breaks out, bringing up a few of Fred’s more unsavoury personal habits. Aparently Fred has been ‘self indulging a bit lately. And Ben offers him some sound advice:
‘If you’re going to be an MP you’ll have to stop the wanking.’
Some might argue that’s a perfect fit for a career in politics.
For that an further pearls of wisdom from Fred, you can find him on tour across Wales, more information on Hijinx’s website: Meet Fred