You’ll want to meet Fred – he’s a 2-foot-tall puppet with sass, scruples, and a hatred of children. Despite what the Muppets (Fred’s nemeses) might suggest, life as a puppet isn’t easy – at the moment, his biggest worry is a job centre jobsworth threatening to cut his PLA (Puppetry Living Allowance). Without it, he’ll have to lose one of his puppeteers and that’s just not how bunraku puppetry works – Fred needs the support of all six hands if he’s to continue moving and speaking without issue.
In Blind Summit and Hijinx Theatre’s metatheatical play, the three puppeteers never blend into the background: not only are the audience always aware of them, the puppet is too! So though Fred initially has misgivings about the puppeteers’ wandering hands (he even tries to escape their grip), it’s much better than the alternative. We watch as Dan McGowan, Aled Herbert and Sam Harding breathe life into the prone Fred, and masterfully execute his existential crisis upon realising he is a puppet. With his plain-cloth body, Fred is a blank canvas, one who should, director Ben Pettitt-Wade tells him, be ready to write his own story (but what about that well-thumbed script casually left on the stage?) Pettitt-Wade absolves himself of any responsibility for the 80 minutes of action, insisting that it’s the choices Fred makes that govern his life, rather than the conditions the director has created for him.
From the bureaucratic insanity of the social security system to the perils of dating to being pigeon-holed, Fred battles the kinds of prejudice that people living with disabilities face every day. Meet Fred touches on the clichéd misrepresentations of disability in popular culture, calling to mind the campaigners who last year slammed rom-com Me Before You as ‘inspiration porn’ and a ‘snuff film’ for rehashing the narrative that it’s “better to be dead than disabled”. The collaboration between Hijinx and Blind Summit brings inclusive theatre and stellar puppetry together, and the result is hilarious, compelling and political.
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