Meet Fred review at Summerhall, Edinburgh – ‘slick, smart puppetry’
Meet Fred will not be unfamiliar to anyone who’s seen Blind Summit’s The Table – a puppet suffers existential crisis when he realises he’s a puppet. It’s been done, but it’s no lesser a thing because of that. It’s a show of charm, wit and invention.
The result of a puppetry workshop for learning disabled actors led by Blind Summit, Meet Fred uses bunraku puppetry to bring the titular Fred to life. He’s a faceless creation, made of white cloth: a blank canvas. But in the hands of his three humans, and as voiced by Dan McGowan, he feels very real – his worries, about work, life and romance, are common ones.
Fred grapples with the realities of life as a puppet. He has to contend with the kind of bureaucratic rigidity that means he might lose one of his puppeteers. He eventually gets a job as a children’s entertainer, but he is not very good at it.
Ben Pettitt-Wade, the show’s director, occasionally interjects, berating the stage manager for not doing his job properly. This mixture of meta-theatre, puppetry and comedy is nicely handled by the company and there are some lovely sequences, particularly a scene in which a depressed Fred drinks himself silly, but there’s also something more political going on. The piece has points to make about independence and empowerment, about care, support and society. Three cast members have learning disabilities – including Martin Vick, who plays the stage manger – and the show is a celebration of cooperation and collaboration, of people combining their strengths to create something joyous.