Fine Chisel's production of Dumbstruck, a play devised by the company--where the actors double as musicians-is a meditation on communication, isolation, and connection. Like it's main character, the show and company valiantly try to reach out and connect with the audience through storytelling and song. But it feels like a chapter or two of a captivating, but ultimately unfinished, book.
Ted (Robin McLoughlin) is alone. "He is always alone." Stationed a remote research facility in Alaska and listening to recordings of whales, Ted has removed himself from the world. But when Ted comes across a whale which sings at 52-Hertz, an unexpected octave for a whale, Ted finds himself speaking to the whale, which he dubs 52. For the first time in years Ted is compelled to communicate and he choose 52 as an apt partner in conversation. Ted proceeds to tell his stories to the whale: memories of his uncle Mal (George Williams) and the intriguing research student Ted once helped, Fiona (Holly Beasley-Garrigan). But something is wrong with Ted and it's not just that he's talking to whales.
Inspired by the company's fascination with the true story of the 52-Hertz whale, Fine Chisel creates portraits of three characters who are all searching for something. Ted is trying to reconnect with the world but his mind is rebelling against him. Mal, a vicar, has started to lose his faith. Fiona, launches a rebellion against authority through a pirate radio station and is trying to find her voice. Ted is telling us these stories about these influential and important characters in his life, and he is a different person when he's transported back in time.
In this hour long show, the company packs in songs (Carolyn Goodwin and Tom Spencer round out the cast and the band), lo-fi effects, smart convertible props (a ukulele is Ted as a small boy, and then when he grows a guitar), and solid performances. It's a fine accomplishment. I could have spent more time with Ted as he mused over the mystery of 52--speculating about the whale's unusual song he queries "Maybe it's just the effort to be heard over the noise. Maybe something is broken." There is a reason it is this whale that Ted reaches out to. An anomaly like he is. A loner in a vast ocean. It's a compelling concept and what gives the piece it's heart. But as we drifted from Ted into the other characters' stories I was not as engaged. As fun as the rockabilly tunes were, the pirate radio station bit seemed a touch overlong at the expense of the primary emotional resonance. Nevertheless a wonderful start to my Edinburgh Fringe Fest 2013 and a company to keep an eye out for.