Jigsaw: existentialist feel-good fun
Jigsaw is a blend of feel-good fun, smart humour, and quiet sincerity, and its young performers work hard to bring its nuances to life. Billed as “a youth-produced cabaret” that draws inspiration from the 1920s, The Hero's Journey, and our modern desires,” it is a series of inter-connected vignettes that follow two loosely-sketched characters (played by Maya-Roisin Slater and Paisley Nahanee) on a psychological and theatrical journey through the world of 1920s stage-performance. The scenes are conntected thematically, but each is also a self-contained drama and characters shift and transform from scene to scene.
Though it wanders into serious territory, exploring death, loneliness, and personal catastrophe, Jigsaw is light-hearted and funny. Using theatre as a metaphor for life, it encourages audiences to “seize the day,” to live in ways that are creative, joyful, and authentic. If the message is rather trite, it is delivered with a humour and compassion that help to offset the moralistic tone that wraps up the story.
The narrative is structured around a series of steps that are said to characterise a mythic heroic journey. By far the funniest scene of the evening was the one titled “Refusal of the Return.” Here Slater and Nahanee step out of there previously established roles as cabaret dancers and, dressed in scentists' robes, procede to directly address the audience, haranguing them for investing in material goods like iPhones and laptops. On the opening night of the Fringe Festival, Slater and Nahanee's rapport was at its best in this scene, and their jokes seemed natural and easy. The lesson was delivered with much joie-de-vivre – Slater's tone and body language were especially funny and she came off like a cross between Steve Urkle and the-girl-next-door.
In contrast, a scene called “Belly of the Whale” fell short of its dramatic potential. The vigniette contains two parallel monologues, one by a fresh-faced ingenue (Slater) and one by a jaded, cigar-smoking director (Nahanee). The monlogues are grim and fragmented – the singing girl appears to have been raped in an allyway that very morning, while the director seems on the verge of drinking himself to death. With its film-noir overtones, the scene is a darkly ironic snapshot of a world where the show must go on at all costs – even when the people in the business pay a terrible price. Unfortunately, the gravity of the scene was undercut by rushed and nervous delivery on the part of Nahanee that made her words, and therefore her character, all but incomprehensible. I also found something overly gruesome about the vignette itself: since there is no context for the assault, its description creates a bit of a flat note in an otherwise fairly harmonic whole. I think that some further coaching by the director, to strengthen the interplay between ingenue and director, might have helped to integrate this scene into the larger portrayal of "the human condition as theatrical experience" to which the play aspires.
That said, there was lots to praise in both actors' performances, and their energy carries the story. Nahanee has a flair for slapstick and dramatic body language, while Slater has the ability to speak volumes with the direction of her gaze. Both are triple-threats, and they sang, danced, and declaimed their way through the evening with great verve. They showed an understated self-confidence on the stage that suggests good training, strong direction, and a natural passion for their work.