The Musical Jigsaw Play: History

The Musical Jigsaw Play is the least well-known of Alan Ayckbourn’s plays for families, largely due to it only having had one professional production and having never been published.

It began its life not - as usual - with the
Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, Scarborough, but with the Royal Exchange in Manchester, who contacted Alan in 1992 regarding the possibility of writing a children’s play for spring 1994. Alan suggested the concept of The Musical Jigsaw Play, which he would write with the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round’s musical director John Pattison. Unfortunately, the Exchange was unable to find sponsorship for the play and for this and various other reasons, the play was never produced in Manchester.

Alan and John had written the piece though and it was decided the play would open in Scarborough for the Christmas 1994 season. The play was written specifically for the round and the stage was transformed into a jigsaw puzzle, which the cast - with the aid of the audience - assembled; this created the basis of a song which cast and audience would end up delivering. There was a high degree of interactivity in the show and lots of participatory singing.

The Musical Jigsaw Play opened in December 1994 and proved to be a hit with its young audiences. The first performance was excessively long though and fairly major cuts were made to parts of the puzzle-solving; this apparently did not harm the show as the children latched onto the concept of what was going on very quickly, which allowed Alan to make cuts to move the play forward whilst not damaging the integrity of the show.

Reviews for the play were extremely mixed with several critics likening the play more to a game show than a play and most having difficulty with the amount of time spent in the first act creating the puzzle; although most critics agreed the children enjoyed the interactivity and the singing.

The play has never been produced again, largely one suspects to the need to produce it in the round, the lack of a significant plot and the technical demands of the piece; during 2020, the playwright confirmed the play had been officially withdrawn from production. It has also never been published.

Article by Simon Murgatroyd. Copyright: Haydonning Ltd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.