York’s grumpiest publicans Fred & Sharon clash online in puppeteer Freddie Hayes’ fast, furious and funny Facebook film

York puppeteer Freddie Hayes with grouchy Fred, her puppet pub landlord

YORK puppeteer, performer and producer Freddie Hayes is to release her short comedy film, Fred & Sharon, online on May 29 to cheer up the city in lockdown.

“The ten-minute film involves my beloved puppets from Fred’s Microbrewery that I performed with during last summer’s Great Yorkshire Fringe in York,” says Freddie, whose filmic collaborator was Nico Jones from Hidden Door TV. 

“Gone are the days of Spitting Image, so here comes the York equivalent, for all your lockdown viewing pleasures.”

Freddie’s film depicts two unhappily married puppets, Fred and Sharon, owners of a dated York boozer. “But with a shift in British drinking culture, the business is now in jeopardy and Fred must venture into the dangerous world of ‘The Hipster’ to save the pub,” says the puppeteer. “But will there be strings attached?”

For the film, Freddie’s puppets popped out at diverse locations around the city, from Spark: York to Young Thugs Studios, True Story café to Coney Street. “Now, if you’re missing the pub during quarantine, tune into my puppet comedy on May 29 at 8pm,” says Freddie. “Join the live watch party via Facebook@FreddieDoesPuppets.”

Looking ahead, Freddie has submitted Fred & Sharon for the tenth anniversary Aesthetica Short Film Festival, to be held in York from November 4 to 8. “So, fingers crossed for that,” she says.

Fred takes to the streets of York

Charles Hutchinson puts the questions to puppeteer Freddie Hayes, no strings attached.

When and where did you make the film?

“Fred & Sharon has taken about a year to put together with Nico Jones, filmmaker from hiddendoor.tv.

“The film is divided into two different worlds: Fred and Sharon’s old-school social club and the hipsters of York.

“I attended a gig at Young Thugs Studios in South Bank and I thought that the South Bank Social Club bar downstairs would be the perfect oldie-worldie backdrop for Fred and Sharon’s pub. 

“For the hipsters of York, I decided to film at True Story café as well as Spark: York. Hotspots for the trendy youths of York.”

Forgive me for not knowing, or not being a hipster for that matter, but where and what is the True Story café? 

“True Story is a vegan café on Lord Major’s Walk. The café has been really supportive with my work and has allowed me to put on performances and events there.

“It’s a real hidden gem in York and is worth a visit for the delicious food and amazing views of the Minster.” 

Fears of a frown: Pub landlord Fred at his grumpiest

Who is Nico Jones and how did you meet?

“Nico is a York filmmaker who’s directed films such as the Fall In Love With Independents viral video, for Indie York, and Chicken On A Raft for York music heroes Blackbeard’s Tea Party.

“We started working together through the close-knit York art community and I’d seen his work through online videos. 

“Nico was the brains behind the making of the film. As the director and script writer, he managed to capture the essence of the garish characters, Fred and Sharon, and compressed all of that northern spirit into a ten-minute short film.” 

How does making a puppet film differ from a live performance?

“Puppeteering for film differs considerably from a live show. Mistakes can be covered up and re-made in film production, whereas in live performance you rely on improvised banter and having a connection with the audience.

“It’s a bit of gamble performing live and I get very nervous. When it’s a good gig, it feels amazing and the adrenaline is a bonus. But a bad gig can make you feel idiotic and in a pit of hell. Especially when you’re waving around a drunk-old-man puppet to 50 audience members! 

“But with film you get up close and personal with the puppets, seeing every expression and emotion behind the movement. It was a fantastic feeling being able to refine each moment to make sure it was perfect for the film. 

A moment of sobering reflection for Fred

“Seeing Fred & Sharon on the big screen really brings them to life, so much so that you forget half-way through that they’re puppets.

“I think that’s what’s so fantastic about puppets, especially adult puppetry, as it allows grown-ups to slip into a more child-like mindset but still enjoy a bit of rudeness.” 

How did you settle on the ten-minute format?

“We settled on ten minutes of material as it was long enough for viewers to see the emotional trajectory – and short enough to spark interest. “Nowadays, if an online video isn’t funny within the first ten seconds, you will turn it off. So, having something short and sweet was the perfect compromise.” 

How are you dealing with life in lockdown limbo? It must be so frustrating as a performer…

“I’m coping well and have been entertaining myself with a lot of bad TV and karaoke. (I was given a karaoke microphone for my birthday, so I’m feeling very sorry for the neighbours right now!)

“I’ve been making puppets for a theatre commission during lockdown, which has kept me busy too.”

“Wrong”, said Fred, as he makes a point

Are you writing new material in response to these discombobulating times?

“My big plan at the moment is creating a solo show for Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2021. This may include a new act I’ve been working on called Ms Potato Head about a potato called Charlotte from New York that dreams of a showbiz cabaret career.

“So, I suppose it will have nothing to do with Corona at all and I might avoid the subject at all costs.” 

What do you do with your puppets when not in use? Lock them away in their own lockdown or keep them around you to inspire new material?

“Fred and Sharon are currently living inside a laundry bag in my attic. I’m sure Fred has a few words to say about current affairs but for now I’ve zipped him up.” 

And finally, any idea what the new Government mantra Stay Alert means?

“Can’t help you with that one. I guess ‘Stay Alert’ to me means ‘make puppets, not friends’?” 

Puppet and puppeteer

PEN PORTRAIT: Who is Freddie Hayes?

FREDDIE is a York puppet maker and performer who has toured around the UK with her handmade puppets and original performances at festivals, pubs and schools. These include Strut Club Cabaret and the Great Yorkshire Fringe in York; the Edinburgh Fringe; Shambala Festival and Moving Parts Festival.  Freddie works closely in the York community to promote creative events such as cabaret, workshops and comedy events.