Dumbstruck*** (Battersea Arts Centre)

Posted: July 4, 2014 in Theatre

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews: http://www.thepublicreviews.com

In a world where shoals of cod can sing in a 17,000 point harmony and whales can communicate with each other across thousands of undersea miles, the human race struggles to make itself heard, blocked by censorship and inarticulacy. Fine Chisel has devised this musical entertainment, building upon these themes in a loosely linked story which moves between a marine biology station off the Alaskan coast to a pirate radio ship in the North Sea. Set very vaguely in the early 1960s, the story concerns Ted (Robin McLoughlin), an academic who is researching marine mammal bioacoustics, living a solitary life and obsessed with tracking singing whales across the Bering Sea. He is able to distinguish between the accents of individual whales, but, impaired by a brain tumour, he has difficulty in finding words to pass on his knowledge to his student, Fiona (Holly Beasley).  Fiona is more obsessed with human communication and, springing from an aversion to the BBC’s Light Programme (something like the modern Radio 2), she establishes an illegal radio station to broadcast whatever she chooses. However, when she airs provocative views and reads extracts from the then banned Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Ted tries to persuade her that she would be more suited to a sedate job in Belgium. This bizarre narrative provides a framework and ambience to showcase some lively music, which is themed on the life aquatic, ranging from emulating whale noises to rocking a pirate boat. George Williams plays guitar and provides vocals, Tom Spencer plays banjo and percussion and Carolyn Goodwin also vocalises and plays woodwind, contributing some outstanding jazz saxophone segments. Beasley adds a couple of dances to add to the entertainment, showing little regard for the lecture room setting, surrounded by blackboards and charts. Dumbstruck is, in essence, about connectivity, yet, itself, it does not quite connect to make a coherent whole. Nonetheless, if not taken too seriously, it provides an unusual and pleasantly entertaining evening.

Performance date: 3 July 2014

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