Why Freddie Hayes is feeling chipper about her Faustian puppetry show Potatohead

Shed haven: Puppeteer Freddie Hayes contemplates life as a Potatohead

WHY is “gloriously bonkers” York performer, maker and writer Freddie Hayes a puppeteer?

“I’ve always made puppets from a young age,” she says. “But I lost in a puppet competition at Scarcroft School and it’s been revenge ever since.”

That act of revenge continues with the Edinburgh Fringe-bound Potatohead, her “starch-raving mad” solo adaptation of Christopher Marlowe’s cautionary tale Doctor Faustus And The Seven Deadly Sins, directed by Sh!t Theatre.

Combining puppetry, stand-up comedy, physical theatre, film, singing, dancing and a sack of potato puns, Freddie’s hour-long “one-potato show” plays York Theatre Royal Studio on June 10, the McCarthy at the Stepehen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, on June 14, and Seven Arts in her adopted home of Leeds on July 20.

“I’ve always been interested in puppets as objects and creating characters from everyday people you might see in everyday life,” says Freddie, whose absurdist work hovers between childish puppetry and late-night entertainment in its story of humble York spud Charlotte, who dreams of becoming a cabaret superstar but is blighted by a chip on her shoulder.

 “I have quite a dark sense of humour too, and there seems to be something haunting about puppets that intrigues me.

“Puppetry can be very violent, with dark stories like Punch & Judy, where he defeats the Devil and death itself with his powers – so that story has a vague connection with Faust.”

After introducing York and beyond to grouchy pub landlords Fred and Sharon, unhappily married guvnors of a dated York boozer, in Fred’s Microbewery at the 2019 Great Yorkshire Fringe and York Theatre Royal Pop-up Festival, now Freddie switches her attention to the Swiss Army knife of the vegetable world, the potato, in her “unadulterated celebration of silliness”.

Jacket potato! Freddie Hayes in her Potatohead costume on stage

Expect elements of kitsch cabaret and old-school entertainment in her blend of puppetry, clowning and surrealist comedy with room for sexual content and references to religion and the devil, hence the age guidance of 14+.

Why re-tell Faustus, Freddie? “I like the darkness and the idea of being in between life and death, that power struggle, as you try to get your dream to become reality – and in the case of Potatohead, it becomes the struggle of trying to become a stand-up comedian,” she says.

Would that struggle involve selling your soul to the devil? “I’m yet to do so myself! I don’t have to worry about comeuppance! But there is connection between potatoes and Faustus…”

…Really? “The year that the potato arrived in Europe was the same year that Marlowe’s play was premiered,” says Freddie. “Back then, potatoes were very glamorous. They were considered to be exotic and aphrodisiacs too!”

Yes, but why transform Faustus into a potato, or, rather, a couch potato with aspirations of becoming a golden wonder? “What’s great about potatoes is that they can be anything, and I feel like everyone has an inner potato in them. Some days everyone feels a bit like a potato,” says Freddie.

“On top of that, there was the idea that you can become great [not grate!] one day by taking a risk and being brave. That’s the moral of this story.”

Potatoes are even more chameleon than usual in Freddie’s show. “There’s actually a little bit of puppet potato nudity!” she reveals. “They can also fly and shape-shift, disappear and re-appear, so they’re quite magical!

“What’s great is that the potato puppets play these demon spirit characters and they do have this unworldly quality about them, which works well with the narrative of Faustus.”

Spud work: Freddie Hayes’s Potatohead gets digging in the garden. Picture: Amy D’Agorne

Seeking to capture the stupidity of life in her puppetry, she also reflects on her own life through her characters, scenarios and themes. “There’s a part of the show that’s slightly autobiographical in that I talk about my relationship with puppets and how they integrate with my life,” says Freddie, who studied for a BA in puppetry at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama from 2015 to 2018.

“I have this awareness of being dressed as a potato running around with these puppet potatoes, so I give a side-eyed look at the audience, as if to say ‘what am I doing here?’!”

Puppet potatoes abound in Potatohead. “You can probably guess there are seven potatoes for the seven demons [the ‘deadly sins’ in Faustus], and there’s obviously a Mephistopheles, played by Maurice Piper! Beelzebub is a big secret I can’t reveal, though it’s something to do with a popular potato brand,” says Freddie.

Summing up Potatohead’s comedic style, Freddie says: “It’s a very strange one! Imagine if Cilla Black collaborated with The League Of Gentlemen and The Mighty Boosh, all in a one-potato show. Old-school glamour meets general weirdness!” What a mash-up!

As for Freddie’s favourite potato dish, “I love chips,” she says. “Keep it simple. Cheesy chips. Or cheesy chips and gravy if you’re feeling really naughty.”

As part of her debut national tour, Freddie Hayes presents Potatohead at York Theatre Royal, June 10, 7.45pm; Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, June 14, 7.45pm; Seven Arts, Chapel Allerton, Leeds, July 20, 8pm. Box office: York, 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk; Scarborough, 01723 370541 or sjt.uk.com; Leeds, 0113 262 6777 or sevenleeds.co.uk.

Copyright of The Press, York

Question? What is Freddie’s favourite among the seven deadly sins in Doctor Faustus?

“Gluttony. I think I feel I don’t think it’s a terrible sin! It seems quite sweet,” she says.

Freddie Hayes, minus the Potatohead

Freddie Hayes Fact File

Born: York

Lives in: Leeds

Occupation: Performer, writer, puppeteer and maker, crafting bespoke puppets, props and costumes.

Studied for: BA in Puppetry at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, London, 2015 to 2018.

Since graduating: Created solo shows Fred’s Microbrewery and Potatohead, performing on UK comedy, festival and cabaret circuit for four years, playing Shambala Festival, Camden Fringe and Leeds International Festival.

Who’s the guvnor here? Puppeteer Freddie Hayes with Yorkshire’s grouchiest pub landlord, Fred, mean host of Fred’s Microbrewery

Home city works: Strut Club cabaret; former artist-in-residence at Southlands Studios; presented Fred’s Microbrewery at 2019 Great Yorkshire Fringe and York Theatre Royal Pop-up Festival; created and filmed short puppet film Fred And Sharon on York’s streets.

Projects: Artist-in-residence at Slung Low Theatre, working with Sh!t Theatre mentors, at The Holbeck, Holbeck, Leeds; associate artist of Slap York; resident puppeteer at Folkestone Puppet Festival.

Debut national PotaTour: Potatohead, May 19 to July 20, playing Leeds, Camden, Brighton Fringe Festival, Bristol, York, Scarborough, Greater Manchester Fringe Festival (July 14, 7pm, 9pm) and Leeds again (Seven Arts, July 20, 8pm).

Support: Started work on Potatohead project with Slap York in 2019. “They’re great at helping emerging artists,” says Freddie. “Without them, I don’t think I would have got going on this show.”

Mash of the day: Freddie Hayes in a Potatoheadshot

Funding: Arts Council National Lottery Project Grant to create Potatohead; Luke Rollason Memorial Bursary Award winner to programme show at Brighton Fringe Festival.

Performance style: Hovering between childish puppetry and late-night entertainment. Often autobiographical, reflecting on her life through relatable characters, scenarios or themes.

Pulling strings: Makes all her puppets, costumes and props. “I see it as a sort of sculpture, and I love making props,” says Freddie. “I do a lot of puppet-making commissions, making them for York Maze and Leeds City Varieties and working freelance for Leeds Playhouse for a while.”

Next up: Presenting Potatohead at Below, The Pleasance Courtyard, 60 Pleasance, Edinburgh, at 2022 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, August 3 to 29, 2pm. Directed by Sh!t Theatre, Freddie’s production will be appearing as a York Theatre Royal supported show with Pleasance Edinburgh National Partnerships. Box office: tickets.edfringe.com/venues/pleasance-courtyard.