The Musical Jigsaw Play: Reviews

This page contains a selection of reviews from the world premiere production of Alan Ayckbourn's The Musical Jigsaw Play at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, Scarborough, in 1994. All reviews are the copyright of the respective publication and / or author.

The Musical Jigsaw Play (by Robin Thornber)
"Why? is the name of a pop group who have dropped through the bottom of the charts. To climb out, they have to piece together a new number with the help of singer Jetta and most of the audience.
Alan Ayckbourn's new play for kids and their families reworks the simple pleasures of parlour games, jigsaw puzzles and the sing-along into a display of dramatic cunning.
The challenge is to solve riddles set by an enigmatic, electronic Bamboozler involving the audience in a tonal jigsaw which builds into a word pyramid that can be read vertically down each side or round the circumference. It's an astonishing ploy.
His wordplay, John Pattison's music and Jan Bee Brown's set are fused into a brainteaser of infinite ingenuity that, with the company as cheerleaders, lures young audiences into bursting response. With our help the group gets its hit - and so does Ayckbourn's ingenious stagecraft and vivacious company."
(The Guardian, December 1994)

Game For A Grouch (by Robert Gore Langton)
"The great thing about children's shows is that you generally get a real story - something that is often lacking in new writing for the grown-up theatre. Best of all, the audience gives an unambiguous response. Children simply will not tolerate boredom. Their usual weapon against it is a mass outbreak of exaggerated coughing or phoney laughter - and very effective it is, too.
There was none of this at the packed house in Scarborough, where Yorkshire school children visibly enjoyed Alan Ayckbourn's new Christmas show. Yet to my mind it was pretty second-rate. By contrast, the last Ayckbourn children's show I saw,
Mr A's Amazing Maze Plays - in which a little girl took on a sinister man who stole people's voices - was utterly captivating. That show justified my general rule that top-notch theatre for children is equally enjoyable for grown-ups.
In this new play, the plot centres on a four-man rock band which has fallen through the bottom of the pop charts into limbo, presided over by a sinister machine called the Bamboozler. With the aid of an elderly woman (who rapidly decreases in years) these rotten musicians attempt to do the abstract jigsaw they find on the stage beneath their feet. If they complete it they will escape. If not, they die.
This may sound meaty enough, but the entire afternoon is taken up with the puzzle. It becomes a live game show. The idea is that when the band step on bits of the puzzle, the machine makes a sound. They then have to step on sounds of the same note to earn another piece of the jigsaw. It is song composition by numbers.
While I am sure this is all musically very educational, and despite the show's "proactive" nature, it didn't add up to particularly satisfying theatre. Instead, Ayckbourn seems to have indulged his famous passion for sound effects while abandoning his interest in a recognisable dramatic world with identifiable predicaments and emotions.
The characterisation is minimal (the band is a mix of suited rockers and retarded punks, circa 1976), and the dialogue is larky yob-speak throughout. There is, however, plenty to occupy the children on the four sides of the stage. Divided into teams, the audience are encouraged to sing along and are plucked from their seats by the actors to help with the puzzle.
I am conscious of being a grouch in my reaction to all this merriment. There is, I admit, something dubious about grown-up critics not joining in the singing and then giving the thumbs-down to shows designed for children. And, as I say, the kids certainly enjoyed it.
John Pattison supplied plenty of music, and the designs - contrived by Jan Bee Brown - were cunning and elaborate. But this hands-on play struck me as more of a crowd-occupier than a fresh work of the imagination from one of the true masters of the stage."
(Daily Telegraph, 14 December 1994)

Musical Harmony (by Kate Bassett)
"Alan Ayckbourn's latest theatre piece for children bored me stiff, Kate Bassett writes, but it seemed to go down a storm with under-tens. A collaboration with composer John Pattison, it aims to be fantastical, funny and funky, while teaching us all a singing lesson.
The world's worst band, Why?, have fallen through the bottom of the charts into pop musicians' purgatory. Tie-dyed Nige, silver-suited Wicky, kilted naked-torsoed Edge (lively, bottom-scratching Matt Kane), and Sin (lovably stupid Nicholas Haverson) seem to be lost souls. They find themselves in what looks like the inside of a computer or some more traditional board game, crossed with a nightclub from hell.
The story degenerates into a game show which, unfortunately, isn't played against the clock. If they are to escape, Jetta (rejuvenating, energised Annie Cowan) and the lads have to score top marks in the challenges set by the Dalek-voiced Bamboozler, a sort of wizard in a jukebox. Members of the audience assist with delightful eagerness.
Pattison's harmonies mix rock and primary school hymning. Ayckbourn's lyrics are none too illuminating, though there is a message in there about the redeeming nature of music and communal harmony."
(The Times, December 1994)

The Musical Jigsaw Play (by David Jeffels)
"The incomparable Alan Ayckbourn has taken the traditional panto sing-along, tucked in just before the final of most productions, and given it a whole new meaning by developing an exciting and fascinating Christmas play based on the concept.
The result is not only a highly entertaining work at the Stephen Joseph but one which stimulates the imagination of his young, and not so young, audiences.
He uses a pop group which has failed to achieve recognition and success, on which to build his play. Despite being labelled a failure, the group decides to fight back by giving itself a new name and creating a new song. And that is where Ayckbourn and musical director John Pattison use audience participation to the full. In fact, by the end of the play the paying punters have played no small part in creating the entire production.
Using the four sections of the audience in-the-round, each of the cast creates, with the aid of superb backstage technicians, sounds which form the musical jigsaw, with the audience searching frantically for the pieces (a most innovative use of supermarket trolleys). An ingenious combination of sound, colour and sight eventually produces a hit song for the group creating the words.
This is not only a superb entertainment, brilliantly crafted. It is a fun play which stimulates young imaginations and the hard working, highly enthusiastic cast of Edward Little, Nicholas Haverson, Matt Kane, Danny Dryer and Annie Cowan use their wealth of skills to enormous effect to hold the attention of the youngsters and to bring the show to a magnificent climax. Pantomime songs which have been strung down above the cast in the closing moments of a show, with each side of a theatre competing against the other, will never seem the same again. We have seen yet another sparkling piece of Ayckbourn observation and ingenuity which has resulted in a fascinating theatrical sensation.
Jan Bee Brown's design must rank as one of her finest yet, and Jackie Staines deserves special praise for the lighting."
(The Stage, 30 December 1994)

The Musical Jigsaw Play (by Alfred Hickling)
"And you thought music was a monochrome matter... all those black notes and white notes on the piano keyboard; the little dots skipping up and down the stave.
All of which is further proof of the endless adaptability of Alan Ayckbourn's genius. For though Mozart was capable of joining the dots up in a pleasing sequence, even he did not think of colouring them in.
In Ayckbourn and musical director John Pattison's splendid new pro-active children's adventure, the scale and the spectrum become indistinguishable. As the audience, you are required to hold a note (or sing a colour) in order to fit the corresponding shade (or perfect pitch) into the jigsaw.
And the point of this? To rescue the pop group, Why?, who are so abysmally bad that they have dropped out of the bottom of the charts, and landed in the void where unwanted bands go to ponder their inadequacy.
Only a hit tune (or a nice colour) will save them - so it is up to the audience to deliver the goods. A crowd comprising the long-in-tooth to the tiniest tot were almost apoplectic in their eagerness to oblige.
Fine performances from the group (who aren't all that bad really) secure a quality piece of family entertainment. Thus is created the first musical where one comes out whistling the tunes, vaguely convinced that you have done a good deal of the groundwork yourself."
(Yorkshire Post, December 1994)

Sets And Jokes And Rock And Roll Are Very Good In Parts (by Simon Murgatroyd)
"Prepare to have your eardrums shattered!
Alan Ayckbourn's latest play is also his loudest play, not so much from the music but from the younger audience's enthusiastic screaming.
The Musical Jigsaw Play is Ayckbourn's latest creation for young people and let me state now, you will have more fun if you can persuade a child to take you to it.
The concept is literally a music and light filled interactive play, as the band Why! try to escape from The Place Groups Go To When They Aren't Any Good.
After a nicely judged and humorous start, the play unfortunately loses its way as the musical jigsaw is built. This crucial element drags on for too long and the actors need to encourage the audience more while moving the action quickly along.
No such problems in the second half as the play zips along - the audience is kept on its toes as the play climaxes in an explosive crescendo.
The impromptu appearance of some eager youngsters highlighted the fact that the play depends on an enthusiastic crowd and good volunteers for it to work well.
The five actors / musicians are all very enthusiastic with the most memorable being Sin (Nicholas Haverson) as a wonderfully stupid drummer and Edge (Matt Kane) a mad, bald and kilted bass guitarist.
Obviously, a good score is needed and musical director John Pattison has done an impressive job, especially in the second half.
The atmosphere is helped immeasurably by another ingenious - and surreal - set by Jan Bee Brown and clever lighting by Jackie Staines.
Adults may find the first half hard work, but by the second I guarantee they will be trying to out-sing and out-shout the youngsters.
The Musical Jigsaw Play is a great play for youngsters, a kind of MTV on stage - and judging by the children's faces as they left the theatre it had struck a definite chord with them."
(Scarborough Evening News, 1 December 1994)

All reviews are copyright of the respective publication.