Meet Fred is a piece which showcases all that is magical about puppetry as an art form. The puppetry is stunning, the story beguiling and the questions raised engaging. The meta-theatrical devices used do not break the fourth wall, but rather, render it transparent and give the show the opportunity to be provocative in a very powerful way.
Both explicitly and implicitly, Meet Fred dissects the nature of theatre: through the huge but quiet skill of the three puppeteers - Fred is a living breathing character for the duration of the 90 minute show - and through Fred's engagement with this fact. At the beginning of the show, Fred has a fight with his puppeteers, attempting to push them away from his hands and feet like a prisoner in chains. He eventually accepts his place as alive only by means of the magic that is theatre, and so do we the audience. The paradox melts away and we accept the augmented reality which fiction offers.
But Meet Fred doesn't stop there. It is funny, fluid and at points, really beautiful. The whole project is a collaboration between Blind Summit, a puppetry company, and Hijinx, a theatre company with a tradition for providing opportunities for actors with learning disabilities. Fred's story is openly analogical; his struggle as a puppet in a world which unconsciously privileges humans provides quite a close analogy to people who have a disability in our society. Living with a disability is explored by other routes by the piece, not least in the onstage cooperation between the members of the two companies. There are moments when the script, which was developed by all the people onstage among others, becomes highly uncomfortable. For instance, when the paper thin line between theatre and reality in Meet Fred means that the "director" (who is actually played by the director, Ben Pettitt-Wade) and his tirade of abuse towards Martin (played with great comic timing by Gareth John) - who has Down's Syndrome - cannot be easily dismissed by as fiction. But nor should it be; it should make us feel uncomfortable.
My criticism would be that the narrative, being very bitty, couldn't really support 90 minutes of onstage time. An hour would have sufficed really. But this is very small fry.
I would urge you to go and see this show if you get a chance. It's slick, fun, funny and important. And woven through it all is an awareness of Fred's unusual esse, which has made me look at my own with a new perspective.