Pros: The show is brilliantly devised, smoothly executed and contains fantastic music from an extremely talented cast.
Cons: The acting can be just a little bit wooden at times and this stands out starkly in contrast to the liveliness of the live music.
Dumbstruck tells the story of Ted Tomkins, an eccentric scientific genius living alone in a whale observation station on an Alaskan island. He is searching determinedly for a whale with a song unlike any he has every heard before – the loneliest whale in the ocean. As his search becomes more and more frantic we are transported through his memories to discover why Ted himself is such a lonely soul, and why he so desperately wants to communicate with this whale.
Along the way we are steered through significant chapters in Ted’s life, including his role in the establishment of a radical pirate radio station, his relationship with a former student and very dear friend and important conversations with his uncle as a very young boy that shape his later life. Fine Chisel guide us through Ted’s story with both abundant energy and touching poignancy. The cast of five switches between acting and playing instruments throughout with virtuosity – the original songs featured are both charming and actually add something to the story too. For just one example, a rock n roll medley through the 1960s during the pirate radio phase of Ted’s life is not only a musical achievement in itself but a nifty device that helps deliver a sense of passing time to great effect.
The boundless enthusiasm that the ensemble brings to the production at its best manifests itself in a joyful delivery of information. At one stage the audience plays the part of a class in one of Ted’s science lectures. The things Ted teaches the audience about animal communication are as interesting as the things the production teaches us about human communication.
At the same time it should probably be said that sometimes this tone of wholesome enthusiasm can veer into the slightly patronising. There were times when I felt that if I turned around I would be surrounded by a room of eight year-olds rather than the trendy Battersea Arts Centre audience.
That being said the sheer energy and delight with which the show is performed gloss over other faults you might find. The charming sense of ramshackle actually helps blend any slip ups into the performance, and an occasional stiltedness to the acting can be forgiven for the many other talents each performer displays.
Basic props like tables, chairs and blackboards are manipulated intelligently to create a scene. At any one point the small collection of props on the stage is a recording studio, a lecture theatre, a whale observation station and a rowing boat. This innovation also uses a puppet made up of a box and a clock dial to represent Ted as a child. The conversations young Ted has with has uncle are some of the most moving moments in the play, another place where an unusual directorial decision actually adds to the production.
Fine Chisel is an extremely talented and exciting young theatre company based out of Bristol and this production deservingly won a Fringe First award at last summer’s Edinburgh Fringe. This is their last stop on the tour with Dumbstruck so do see it while you can. If you can, try and catch the cast doing their fantastic covers set in the Scratch Bar downstairs after the Friday shows. I’ll just say that their unbelievably energetic set features ‘Independent Woman’ as you’ve never seen it before. Throw your hands up at ‘em…
Devised by/Producer: Fine Chisel.
Designer: Rebecca Wood.
Box Office: 020 7223 2223
Booking Link: https://www.bac.org.uk/
Booking Until: 19th July.