Venue45@theSpace, Edinburgh, UK; August 21, 2014

David Mead

Isabel Palmstierna in a moment from the film that opens 'À Table' by Stasis.  Photo courtesy Stasis

Isabel Palmstierna in a moment from the film that opens ‘À Table’ by Stasis.
Photo courtesy Stasis

Part film, part live performance, “À Table” by Edinburgh-based performance company Stasis, focuses on two characters and their relationship as they provoke and comfort each other. Director Aniela Piasecka explains that it’s intended to be mother-daughter relationship. It’s certainly one that has a disturbing, dark side.

It opens with a 15-minute film by Philip Kelly shown on two screens at right angles to one another. Sometimes the same film is shown on both, sometimes different angles on the same moment. It is often compelling. It is certainly excellently edited and would work very well as a standalone.

We see two women, one on each side of a long table; Isabel Palmstierna (the daughter) in white, Olivia Norris (the mother) in red. The colours and what follows suggests other relationships though; maybe patient and doctor, maybe victim and abuser, certainly dominant and submissive. The blindfolded daughter is seen being forced to eat some rather unappetising spaghetti, which she regurgitates and re-eats. As much as she is being forced, far from being a sense of fear, there’s a strange (and again disturbing) sense of willingness about what she does. And when the mother drapes strands of the pasta over the other’s head, there is a sense of caring, a weird sense maybe, but a sense nonetheless.

Film is sometimes much better at conveying mood, and so it proved here. When the film gives way to live action as the mother carries her plaything onto the stage, stroking her as if she was merely some sort of doll, the work dips. While the two female performers were clearly committed, and the same uncertain relationship was present, the work lost its edge and sense of menace. The regression to infantile laughing, which could have been as disquieting as what went before, does not come across well. Attempts at eye contact with the audience do not really work.

Or does everything lose its edge because the music – by experimental folk trio Wovoka Gentle – change too? Music is a very powerful tool in setting mood. That which accompanies the film is menacing, moody and tension-filled. It has a sense that something is going to happen. But for the live action, all those qualities disappear.

“À Table” does perk up again towards the end when one dancer remains live in front of the screens, while the other moved in silhouette behind. The return of the music to the style of the opening helps. It was just a shame the two performers were not quite as in sync as I suspect they were meant to be.