Dumbstruck[author-post-rating] (3/5 Stars)

Having been at the Edinburgh Fringe for the past nine days, there seems (to me at least) to be a distinct lack of theatre pieces that are making good use of music. There’s lots of theatre using music and several plays with songs, but few really fuse the two together in such a way that they feel as one. Luckily we have the likes of Fine Chisel to bring their music-theatre to the stage in their new performance Dumbstruck. It’s not so much that the Fine Chisel crew are offering anything new or different to their work, it’s their ethos, built upon the notion that theatre can be accessible, and music with theatre is a route that will get a foot tapping and an audience engaged. Having performed in pubs across the country, Fine Chisel returns to the theatre space with a new, charming exploration into the 52-Hertz Whale. Called the “loneliest whale in the world” the 52-Hertz Whale has a call that registered much higher than other whales, 52 hertz to be precise, compared to the average 20-30 hertz.

Dumbstruck focuses on Ted (Robin McLoughlin) a researcher and expert in the patterns and frequencies of whales. So attuned to listening to whale calls, Ted has the ability to notice the intonations and variants between individual whales, tracking their movements in isolation on a research island. Like the 52-Hertz Whale, Ted is lonely. Unable to communicate with the rest of his species, he spends hours listening, tracking and listening further. There’s a side story involving Fiona (Holly Beasley-Garrigan), a student of Ted’s who sets up a pirate radio station to counteract the otherwise censored airways. Sending out a mixture of songs and political messages, Ted’s connection with Fiona is strained when he disapproves of the political motives of this new radio station, giving him the incentive to sabotage the signal. This illustrates Ted’s lack of understanding of those around him, and no doubt leads to his isolation.

It’s a charming narrative, and set against a backdrop of toe-tapping songs and bustling energy, it throws a series of ideas into the mixing pot. Therein lies the problem with Dumbstruck; it hasn’t quite found it’s own signal to broadcast in yet. The Edinburgh Fringe often feels full of chaotic and unfinished products, some of this can be blamed upon the energy that the festival saps and sometimes it relates to the work. In Fine Chisel’s case, the material, whilst bursting with directions and stories, needs refining, and ultimately some further time to stretch the work into something more than it currently is.

You’ll find some tender and charming moments of sensitivity and imagination. There’s some nice audience interaction, and the music combines the talents of the ensemble with an excellent musical output. Carolyn Goodwin is particularly impressive with her musical playfulness, and there’s some lovely puppetry from Tom Spencer during interactions with George Williams as Mal, the uncle of Ted. There’s some big questions at play too, about faith and the inability to communicate with those around you. This is underlined with a somewhat sad but beautiful look at the lonely 52-Hertz Whale, whose call echoes around the performance space, seeking communication that never comes. That’s something to think about: how easy it is for us to communicate with our species when we have the right frequency to send our messages on. Touching but unfinished work.

Dumbstruck is at Zoo until 26 August. For more information and tickets visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.