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Cargo, Arcola Theatre, review: ‘too familiar a concept for a powerful story’

PUBLISHED: 12:00 22 July 2016

Cargo at The Arcola Theatre 
by
Tess Berry-Hart

. Picture: Mark Douet.

Cargo at The Arcola Theatre by Tess Berry-Hart . Picture: Mark Douet.

Photo by Mark Douet

Berry-Hart’s contribution to the genre is to set her scenario in a violent, filthy dystopian future. The results are hit and miss.

When The Container made waves in Edinburgh in 2007, the concept of creating a site-specific piece with the audience locked into a lorry container like refugees was novel and shocking.

In Tess Berry-Hart’s new play Cargo at the Arcola Studio, when the weighty doors of Max Dorey’s admirably claustrophobic shipping container set clang shut, plunging the audience into total darkness, we are again meant to feel the realities of being human cargo.

But for all its power the concept is now too familiar. Berry-Hart’s contribution to the genre is to set her scenario in a violent, filthy dystopian future. The results are hit and miss.

The characters are fleeing a civil war in England being won by Christian fundamentalists.

Blasphemy entails the death penalty, women have no rights and gays are stoned.

Topical references are spot-on – there’s a new Hadrian’s wall that’s been built.

After the grim introductory blackness, a pool of light finds two adolescents as they turn on their mobile torches.

Streetwise Joey [Milly Thomas] and her naïve, chatty younger brother Iz [Jack Gouldbourne] discover wired Sarah [Debbie Korley] hiding amongst some crates.

Despite mutual suspicion, survival necessitates conversation and some facts are revealed.

Sarah was a rebel fighter who bought a fake passport and paid for her passage; Joey and Iz are gypsies on the run after Iz was caught spying on bathing women.

When shifty Kayffe [John Schwab] bursts into the mix, tension quickly escalates: his game of 20 questions results in deadly secrets surfacing.

Director David Mercatali coaxes some fine performances from the actors despite weak riffs in the writing: attempts at flights of fancy are rather florid.

It runs at a compact 80 minutes yet the dialogue is overloaded with political exposition. And the frenetic fumbling over a flick-knife could have more urgency.

Avoid the front container box seats if you’re claustrophobic.

Rating: 3/5 stars

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