ED2013 Interviews ED2013 Theatre ED2013 Week0 Edition

Fine Chisel: Fine Fringe fusions

By | Published on Thursday 25 July 2013

Fine Chisel

Fine Chisel are a multi-talented bunch with an eclectic mix of shows in their oeuvre. Last year they staged no less than three shows at the Fringe, each very different to the other, except all were linked by one common element: our reviewers loved them all. Enough for us to hand them an Editors’ Award. Back this year with new play ‘Dumbstruck’, Artistic Director Tom Spencer talks to ThreeWeeks.

CC: How did Fine Chisel first come into being?
TS: Holly [Beasley-Garrigan] and Robin [McLoughlin] answered a call I put out for performers for ‘Firing Blanks’ back in 2010. They never really left and we’re still performing that show. George [Williams] came in the following year, bringing his brilliant songwriting with him, and we haven’t looked back. We enjoy bringing in visiting artists to work with the core four in the devising room. And we’re just in the process of setting up a permanent home in Bristol.

CC: On your website you write “we’re a theatre company and we’re a band” – how does that work?
TS: A couple of years ago we began busking as a way to lure people in to see our shows. After a while, passers-by started throwing a few coins in to our hat as well as taking a flyer; then they started asking whether we’re available for weddings. Now we try to do it all. Though it’s most fun for us when theatre and live music collide totally.

CC: You staged three new shows at the Fringe last year, which was ambitious! Did you deliberately set yourself a challenge?
TS: We wanted to offer the full Fine Chisel menu: a studio piece of new writing (‘Firing Blanks’), our Shakespearean knees-up (‘Midnight At The Boar’s Head’) and a brand new live music-based bar show (‘Unplugged’). Audiences seemed to relish the variation, and it set us up well for approaching venues around the UK about how we might fit in with their programmes.

CC: They were all brilliant. Presumably you had a good festival?
TS: Thanks! Winning a Three Weeks Editors’ Award was a very nice cherry on top. We had an amazing time. But we didn’t eat a meal sitting down for a month.

CC: You have since toured some of last year’s shows. Have they evolved over time?
TS: Come and find out. ‘The Boar’s Head’ is coming back to life this year for three nights only: every Tuesday during the festival at 11pm in the Zoo Venues Cabaret Bar, with our pick of acts from across the Fringe joining us before and after. As your own fine reviewer said, it’s “Shakespearean cabaret… Bawdy, raucous, immersive”.

CC: But you’re really here to perform new show ‘Dumbstruck’. Tell us about that.
TS: It’s about a scientist alone on an island off the coast of Alaska, who is losing his ability to speak. He looks back in his extraordinary life, and he chases a very lonely whale. There are great catchy songs. There’s dance and puppetry and storytelling. There are lots of blackboards.

CC: How do you go about devising and developing your new shows?
TS: There’s no magic formula. Or if there is, we haven’t found it yet. We try to bring a lot of different skills into the room, and trust that something magical will happen. For ‘Dumbstruck’, that’s meant the four of us, another actor-musician, a designer and a dramaturg. We live together and share the writing, music, dancing, cooking, bath water, depression and euphoria.

CC: Despite being the world’s biggest cultural festival, it can be a challenge finding an audience at the Fringe, because of the sheer number of shows. How do you tackle this?
TS: We don’t always. I don’t think anyone does. We’ve had some nights playing to ‘intimate’ crowds, but we’ve also had (an increasing number of) brilliant sell-out shows. The busking is a big bonus. And last year we told people we would give them a free beer – we can’t afford to do that again.

CC: All that said, presumably the Fringe is a great place to perform and premiere your work?
TS: There’s nowhere like it.

CC: Other than performing, what else are you looking forward to about this year’s festival?
TS: Having time to see some shows. The Zoo programme looks really exciting this year, and there are stacks of great artists performing further afield. The Mosque Kitchen, as ever, and cheese boards at the Outsider. And, fingers crossed, a summer without ruining our instruments busking in the Edinburgh rain.

‘Dumbstruck’ was performed at Zoo at Edinburgh Festival 2013.

LINKS: www.finechisel.co.uk