Fred is a rather bizarre comedy dark and multi-faceted, with quite a few laughs plus a treatment of serious and challenging themes. Yet in the end it fails to satisfy.
Death is, of course, the recurring theme, but not quite in the way expected. And it’s a long way from being a whodunit in any shape or form. The play begins with the finding of a murdered body under the rotary clothes hoist, and the rather puzzlingly cynical and off-hand reactions of most of the characters to this unexpected event. Young Pamela by contrast takes the arrival very seriously, developing something of a necrophilial mindset.
The body, for want of an identity, is nicknamed Fred. More deaths follow, equally unexpectedly, yet it becomes apparent that the most important deaths are several years in the past those of the parents of sisters Pamela and Monica. The young women’s unresolved relationship flows from their failure to come to terms with that tragedy (although their circle of so-called friends seem quite insulated from this pivotal aspect of their lives).
The action is played out on a large triangular set (a pointer to several of the evolving relationships?), illustrating for most scenes different aspects of the ’60s decor of the family home. Excellent sound and lighting effects help illustrate diverse scenes, from the strobe-lit casino to a darkened garage pulsating with the sounds of a car alarm.
The cast of seven do their work well. Perhaps the best was Jean-Marc Russ as Miles, the gay surgeon, with a capacity for shifting instantly from deep pathos to comedy, using body language with great effectiveness to express his feelings. Paul Denny as Barry is a perfect ocker sexist car salesman. Rebecca Dale as Pamela made a good professional debut. (I could have done without the fairy/angel’s wings she was required to wear for most of the show.)
The pace seemed generally good, and there were effective instant switches between scenes. The fight scene was hilarious well choreographed and executed: full marks to fight director Scott Witt.
The quest for Fred’s identity and murderer seems to become of marginal importance as the characters form and re-form interrelationships, generally with sexual outcomes, some of which are amusingly represented on stage.
The humour is, as one would expect, suitably vulgar and blasphemous, yet always “politically correct”. Traditional sacred cows are readily ridiculed, but not more contemporary mores (although one delicious moment is the palpable sense of shock and betrayal exuded by the group when one of their number confesses to voting Liberal). Meanwhile more social issues than you’d get in a season of Neighbours are worked into the characters’ interchanges and monologues: drugtaking, unwanted pregnancy, homelessness, divorce, suicide, sexual dysfunction, contraception, homophobia, even antisemitism.
Despite various successful comic and dramatic elements, the play as a whole did not sufficiently cohere. Perhaps coherence was the last of writer Beatrix Christian’s intentions. Introduced early into the narrative is the concept of chaos theory (unexpectedly through the effectively plodding investigating detective, played by Joss McWilliam), which may be a good device to excuse anything that happens in the play itself. But I found it difficult to develop much sympathy for any of the characters or their largely self-inflicted dilemmas, and didn’t in the end find their spin on the eternal questions particularly illuminating or moving.