NEW Review – 30/10/14: Claire Trévien’s ‘The Shipwrecked House’

By Jenny Danes

As an introverted poet, the prospect of going along to performance nights holds something of the magical to me. To be up on stage reading or acting out lines that you’ve breathed out, crafted, re-worked – that’s quite a soul-baring thing, and something that I’ve always struggled to brave. I was excited to take my safe place in the audience, particularly with the added prospect of writing a review for the first time. I settled, notebook in lap, to learn from some of the best.

Rowan McCabe did a grand job opening the night, a feat which I always imagine to be horribly intimidating: the audience hasn’t really warmed up, so every response or titter is a bit timid. McCabe’s delivery of three performance poems absolutely filled the room, bursting with wonderful refrains, dialogues, assonance and humour.

The second support was Matt Stalker, who dipped in and out of poetry and music, warning us it was his first time ever performing his poems. This felt quite an honour to witness, or certainly a point of empathy – until you realise how absurdly professional he is. The turning point of the night for me was his poem about dissecting a human brain, inspired by his time as a biology student. It is very brave, fascinating notes of mortality, and suddenly we found ourselves watching him cup the organ in latex, we were one of the white coat masses gathered round the lab benches. I’d give quite a lot to hear or read that again. I’ll be looking up his band Matt Stalker & Fables, too. I am wary of making musical comparisons because it’s a minefield of causing offence – but I’m thinking along the lines of City and Colour, with a pinch of Laura Marling. Beautiful songs.

We were released for a short while before Trévien kicked off her own show. Sitting in a tub armchair in the foyer, I was drawn to the leaflet for The Shipwrecked House, promoting “a performance that blends poetry, theatre and perfume”. I have to admit, that last one made me blink a bit. But it works. Returning from the interval, a sweet, nautical scent had arrived in the air, you could hear the audience sniff and murmur as they resettled.

The Shipwrecked House is bizarre, and a true experience. You start off on safer territory – Trévien slipping in and out of French to take you through her childhood in Brittany. She chats to us about her schooldays, her hometown’s ridiculous amount of roundabouts, her grandmother, all with wonderfully human writing: “summarising my gran isn’t easy” she says, haltingly – and later, “I want to keep the yoghurts that went out of date yesterday” with a little smile, breaking everyone’s hearts. But there are notes of the chilling from the offset. Trévien first enters at one side, bolt upright and still, wrapped in a rain mac and heavy darkness. We are absolutely in the palm of her hand.

Trévien is a performer, an actress, a conductor – we stick to the nautical theme as her poetry comes in waves: you ride up into the performance, a peak of richer language, back lighting, sound effects; and then down into the trough, a chatty

monologue or prop action. She’s the tour guide, we move with her around the stage and around the themes, stopping at different moments; poems like beautiful ports.

You get lost as she brings in notes of the apocalyptic – clinging to a suspended buoy, shouting “red rain heaves out of the cracked world. / I open my mouth for communion” before storm sound effects blast round the room. If that isn’t enough to rip through you, I don’t know what is.

Overall, it was an absolute gift of a performance. If you’re elsewhere in the UK and can catch one of Trévien’s other autumn tour dates, do it. I’ll be keeping an eye out for all three names, hoping I can catch them again at some point. Finally, a thank you to Apples and Snakes for inviting me along to review this event – it was a treat.

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