I came across Pound of Flesh Theatre Company performing Fires Our Shoes Have Made in a small attic-like room at 2019’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where my review said “When gig theatre is done well, it can be exhilarating”. It’s a statement worth repeating, because almost two years on from that tiny room, tonight I witnessed them again in the slightly larger Rose Theatre, but with the same outcome: utter exhilaration.
“I want to share with you what it’s like living with autism. Warts and all”. So says Molly (Parker) early into Jigsaw, playing as part of the International Youth Arts Festival 2021. The warts that follow are heart-breaking, but – oh my – the ‘all’ is joyous.
Jigsaw is older-sister Molly’s story of living with two autistic brothers, Max and Josh. Presented through a mixture of song, spoken word and some actual camcorder footage of Molly and Max, it is a powerful piece of gig theatre that really demonstrates how the genre can be used to amazing effect. In turn, its style will hopefully appeal to a whole new generation of theatre audience. But don’t be put off if you think gig theatre is going to make your ears bleed (ok some I’ve seen elsewhere probably will), because here the gig side is much more in the form of upbeat Irish folk music than the hip hop you might associate with this genre.
Molly takes centre stage as she tells her story, often sat on the edge of the large bed that makes up the entire set. Closely situated around her are her four musical companions, each worthy of sharing the stage together; George Chopping (guitar and cajon), Tom Fletcher (guitar and bass), Gez Downing (cello) and Sophie Holmes (keyboard). All four interchange instruments throughout, as well as providing additional singing voices to create harmonies that often feel quite fragile, yet still manage to fill the vast space that is the Rose Theatre’s auditorium.
What makes Jigsaw so powerful is the emotional punch it delivers. Molly tells and sings her story from the heart. Her soft little sobs at the most intense moments feel genuine, not part of a performance, whilst the pause as Downing pours her a glass of (non-alcoholic) wine after an incredibly intense segment is perfectly timed; almost demonstrating a need to take stock before she dives in to the final act. Besides the emotion there is the faultless delivery, nowhere more so than when she tells of the precision-like routines her brothers go through each and every morning to get ready for school, and then every evening for bath time. The former routine is played out to a digital display of the clock, important times highlighted in red, as Molly rushes breathlessly through the elongated procedures the family must follow, whilst the latter is one that can take from thirty minutes to two hours!
Gig theatre is still a fledgling genre, but it is one I absolutely adore when it’s done right, and without question Jigsaw absolutely nails. From the moment the show ended, I felt I needed to shout about it; to tell the world how wonderful it is, and how this story should be shared far and wide. There is no doubt anyone with experience of autism would nod in understanding of Molly’s story. It might only have been on for one night at the Rose Theatre, but if Jigsaw comes to a venue near you, I demand you go and see it.
Written by: Molly Parker
Directed by: Matt Owen
Produced by: Pound of Flesh Theatre Company
Jigsaw played as part of International Youth Arts Festival 2021. Whilst there are currently no further dates scheduled, please check the company’s website below for updates. The festival runs until 11 July, further details via the below link.