What do you get when you combine the creative talents of a musician, a playwright, a couple of animators and a sound designer? In this particular case, Dead Stations, a piece of tightly choreographed live music, animation and dramatic narrative. Mike Vass’s atmospheric composition is expertly performed by himself on tenor guitar and violin, Mairi Campbell on vocals and viola, and Yoann Mylonakis on piano, sitting easily (or so it seems) with Nica Harrison and Atikah Zailani’s animation, reminiscent of childhood dreams which pulsate like a heartbeat, and Charlotte Hathaway’s mystery of what lies beyond the abandoned, dead train stations of the title.
An Englishman accidentally gets off his train at a dead station. Where is he going? What’s in the case? Who is in trouble?
And where did the girl come from? Here lies the problem with the piece: the music and animation create the mood so well, yet the young woman character’s voice is unconvincingly flirty, and there is no spark between the man and her. It is hard to see where things are going and what started as a great idea now begins to detract from the piece. Things happen which seem to have nothing to do with the story; suddenly, the action appears to be in a court room. It all feels disjointed and slightly childish. By the end of the first half, though, there is hope that after the break the mystery will make more sense…
But the second half is a set by Mairi Campbell; a joyous selection of music showcasing her formidable vocal skills. She would put Dr John to shame with the groans and scats, alongside her viola playing which swoons from traditional air to pizzicato tentativeness. Campbell’s subject matter travels widely, from the sands of Portobello beach here in Edinburgh, away to a journey from China back to the homeland. During the solo viola piece, it is possible to understand the pull of the wilds of Scotland; it is all there within the music. The audience is encouraged to hum along, and as there’s a choir in tonight, the sounds come like a soft embrace from all around. It is so entrancing, the mystery of the first half is completely forgotten. It’s a shame, as such a conjoining of talent should have left the audience with a lingering feeling under the skin such as is felt after the strangest of dreams. This is true of the second half, but a stronger and more convincing narrative in Dead Stations would have better complemented the other parts of the collaboration.