By BRUCE DENNILL
Moving a whole arts festival online has meant embracing digital means of presenting theatre; attempting to balance the performer-to-performer and cast-to-audience intimacy of theatre with the necessities of staging shows on computer screens. Jigsaw, unlike many of the shows on the National Arts Festival line-up, is performed live, with the slight differences that make a particular performance memorable and without the safety net afforded by having the piece filmed and recorded.
Simon and Paul are markedly different people. Simon (James Cuningham) comes across as uncertain and philosophical. Paul (Iain Robinson) is cockier and more irreverent. The two friends chat regularly on Zoom and, knowing each other well, cover a lot of ground. Clever scripting allows for emotional swells and dips, with humour that is both gentle and harsh, with the awkwardness that sometimes comes with intimacy between men being communicated through the camera.
There are recurring animated interludes with comic-style captions and voiceover narrations that allow for insight into the psyche of the characters (Simon particularly). Whether these sequences were included to both allow for the resetting of camera positions and preparation time for the actors and to add layers and depth to the message being conveyed, they add thought-provoking complexity and plenty of visual impact regardless, making Jigsaw more than simply a well-constructed theatrical dialogue. One passage features a no-punches-pulled animated commentary about the state of the world – or the way we behave (as a species) within the world. It raises anxiety even as the warmth of the men’s relationship comforts.
Current affairs, sport and even science are shrewdly used as filters for further examination of emotions, relationships and closeness – apparently superficial gateways into meaningful moments. There is a thread about thermodynamics and the laws of nature and how they apply – or don’t – to everyday life. They are mentioned as proofs of disorder, with Simon hypothesising that “The meaning of life is creating beneficial order from disorder.” And the concept of testing these theories becomes more layered than it otherwise would have been, given that life itself, for both Simon and Paul, is a test – of their patience and ability to endure under different kinds of stress. Other language is as multi-faceted – death, for one thing, applies to fatigue (“dead tired”) or fear (“dead scared”) among other points in the pair’s discussion of existence.
It’s intricacy made accessible as universal scenarios – the fear that comes with bad news from doctors; the enduring grief of losing a family member; humour used to hide pain; how memories can be edifying or destructive – and the way the men interact underlines how losing meaning in translation can create barriers between friends.
Karen Logan’s excellent editing and the combination of the diverse elements makes Jigsaw a showcase of some of the more intriguing possibilities of a new, digital medium. And the culmination of the piece satisfies without stinting on reality – messiness in friendships that have value is inevitable but, perhaps, love can conquer all.
Absorbing work, and ideas that may yet blossom into a persuasive new digital theatre niche.