Being in a London bubble, it can be easy to believe that gentrification is just a city-centric issue; it isn’t. A different but no less virulent breed thrives in the picturesque and sleepy towns of Cornwall, where wealthy Southerners buy their second homes and holiday lets, leaving locals priced out and aggrieved.
Through the marrying of narrative poetry, song and dialogue, Marietta Kirkbridge (who has previously written for Bucket Club, The Young Vic and Pentabus) tells the story of 14 year old Kelsey (Martha Seignior), her father Tristan (Darcy Vanhinsburgh), and their life aboard Gillybird, a converted fishing boat moored on the Hellford river. Each winter, when the tourists go back to the cities, Tristan steals from their empty second homes. Through the weaving of traditional Cornish folk story with contemporary narrative, Tristan is elevated from being a petty thief to a modern day Cornish smuggler, a local legend living outside of the law in a community that turns a blind eye and extends a pat on the back. A one-man protest movement against gentrification, or is he really forced to steal just to survive? One winter, his resolve is put to the test with the arrival of Londoner, Gayle (Jessica Murrain) and outside forces, beyond his control.
Kirkbridge’s treatment of the subject matter comes from a heartfelt place, finding humor in the bleakness. The three strong cast gel together harmoniously as an unconventional family unit to create moments of affecting pathos, Seignior’s piercing eyes convey Kelly’s conflicting youthful optimism and draw to rebellion with especially emotional zeal. Although Kirkbridge evidently has political points to make, her focus and Crouch’s remains on the emotional experiences of the characters. Through their journey’s she asks more questions of the subject matter than she can possibly answer in just an hour, inciting an unresolved debate that leaves a lingering poignancy and yet also asks, “what now?”. It is at once a story about conservation and protection of Cornish heritage, but conversely about embracing change and adapting to survive.
The show exploits features of the cavernous venue of the Vaults that many of other shows at the current festival have unfortunately struggled with. The damp walls and musty air are sensually evocative of Cornish smugglers caves, the high ceiling lends a pleasing reverb to the three voices when they sing, unsupported a-capella style, and the poetry of the language conjures the Cornish coastline into the mossy brickwork behind without need of elaborate set or scenery. Simply crafted rusty metalwork pieces reminiscent of oyster pots bring Gillybird to life and sound design by Joe Price evokes the sounds of the sea, of the water slapping against wood, seagulls floating on the breeze, the side of the tide running out.
It is unusual to see work co-produced by Pentabus, primarily a rural touring company, in London and for the remainder of the tour this production will be seen (with the exception of one Bristol date) by Cornish and Devonshire audiences. On these dates, I understand there is time given afterwards to continue talking about the issues raised, which in this context will be much more biting and controversial. As a London audience we are, in a way, cast alongside Gayle as the “outsiders”, the tourists who come in the Summer and leave, admiring the scenery but never seeing beyond the Tea Shops and tourist tat. The Long Trick invites us to look again.
Written by Marietta Kirkbride
Directed by Nel Crouch
Designed by Rebecca Jane Wood
Produced by Matt Lister & Marietta Kirkbride
Lighting Design by Joe Price
Sound Design by Aaron May
Vocal Arrangements by Claire Ingleheart
Cast: Martha Seignior, Darcy Vanhinsburgh, Jessica Murrain