29 July 2016

Cargo at the Arcola Theatre


I do not get to the Arcola Theatre as much as I would like. That is mostly my fault for living on the other side of London a problem made worse by me now working in the south-west too and no longer having the sort of job that I could sneak out of for a matinee performance. Despite those obstacles I still keep a close eye on their programme and Cargo attracted me as soon as I read about it. Then the reviews started to come in and I had to go.

A Friday suited me and I left the office in Teddington very promptly, slightly before 5:30pm, to catch the slow train to Vauxhall (all the trains that stop at Teddington are slow), the faster Victoria Line to Highbury and Islington and then the London Overground for the last two stops to Dalston Kingsland. I made good time and arrived there about 80 minutes after I left the office. It was much better when I could walk up from Kings Cross.

Arriving early gave me plenty of time to eat and drink before the performance, and I did both. The menu had expanded since my previous visits but they still had a risotto balls and salad thing that was much like the dish that I used to have, except it no longer had a warm stew at the bottom. The beers were a couple of crafty ales from the east end, a Shoreditch Blonde then a Foundation Bitter.

Then about a quarter to eight I headed downstairs to start the queue to Studio 2 only to find that it had been started by somebody even keener than me. Still, third place was fine.

I had been in Studio 2 many times but had never seen it like this. It was lined with metal to make it look like the inside of a container and the seating was two benches along each side. It was dark too.

I took a seat around the middle of a long side. In the darkness I could just make out some packaging in front of me. There was also a scruffy looking woman sitting on the bench opposite me who had to be one of the cast.

Then the lights went out and in the pitch black the play started. With us in the container and on the ship were two stowaways and young but street-wise woman and her younger brother who had little grasp on what was going on. When they were sure that they were at sea and had not been detected they were brave enough to put a light on and discovered that there was another young woman in there with them.

All nervous, scared and untrusting they quizzed each other about where they had come from, how they had got on the boat and what their plans were. Answers were cautious because of the lack of trust and we were not certain that we were being told the truth.

After the scene was set several surprising things happened but I'll avoid the spoliers and not say what they were. I can say what they did and that was make us look at the "problem" of refugees from different perspectives. I half expected a simplistic story that showed us that refugees are normal people too and, done well, I would have been happy with that but Cargo was more intelligent than that. It also explored the motives, ways and means that people get involved in various aspects of moving across borders. It was engrossing and entertaining as well as intelligent.

The characters with us in the container were very different people and that sparked all sorts of reactions as they parried with each other for the best outcome. Helping the sparks were some excellent performances. I'll, possibly unfairly, pick on Milly Thomas for praise as much as anything because I did not recognise her despite being very close to her only a year previously when she appeared in Animals at Theatre503.

Cargo was a good play and staging it in a dark container helped the experience and made it an event as well as a story. It appealed to me artistically and politically so it is no surprise that I really liked it.

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