We meet Fred as he wakes up - cute little puppet stretching and yawns ensue. But it’s when the lovable little puppet you see standing onstage begins to realise there are three pairs of hands attached to him, screams in terror, tries desperately to detach them from himself then gives up, deflated, that we get the first hint of
Meet Fred is an ingeniously conceived, hilarious and truly unmissable piece of theatre.
As if one existential crisis weren’t enough, within a few minutes Fred notices a nearby script entitled Meet Fred. It turns out Fred is the unwitting star of his very own play - which comes complete with a maddeningly cheery children’s TV-style theme tune - and expected to follow a script he’s never even read. Over the course of the play, Fred has to survive encounters with the job centre, dating, drinking and even his maker. There are scenarios planned out and orchestrated by the director, who’s more concerned with making important theatre than looking out for his leading man-puppet.
Fred himself is a true star, on whose flimsy little shoulders the show can comfortably rest. He’s a literal blank slate, with no real features to speak of, so the only characterisation we get is through his voice and the way his three puppeteers move him. Head-and-left-arm puppeteer Dan McGowan also delivers a stellar performance as Fred’s voice. His characterful voice acting is essential to Fred’s charm, imbuing this bundle of stitching and cloth with an endearingly human personality.
The way Fred moves though is even more remarkable. Six hands move his head, back, arms and legs. It seems an oddly simple arrangement but Fred’s expressive potential under the control of these skilled hands is incredible. Despair, fury, joy, sorrow - Fred’s inner life is superbly conveyed through little tics and broad gesticulations alike. The way his puppeteers gain so many laughs through Fred’s movement alone is astounding.
Meet Fred is an ingeniously conceived, hilarious and truly unmissable piece of theatre. There are quibbles I could dwell on, sure, but pretending that they detract from the magic of the show would be dishonest - Meet Fred is spectacular entertainment. Whatever your expectations are, the show is sure to surpass them; it’s weirder, cleverer, and funnier than you could possibly imagine.