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Cargo (Susan Elkin reviews)

Tess Berry-Hart. Produced by Metal Rabbit Productions.
society/company: Arcola Theatre (professional) (directory)
performance date: 08 Jul 2016
venue: Arcola Theatre, 24 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London E8 3DL.

We are in the hold of a big ferry with the cargo. The doors clang and it’s pitch black. The ship’s engines rumble and we are seated uncomfortably on pallets in the Arcola’s Studio 2 which lend itself very aptly to Max Dorey’s convincingly immersive design. The show runs 80 minutes like the crossing so we’re more or less in real time.

Three people start to scrabble around in the dark and eventually we meet them properly when they turn on a torch. The titular cargo is, of course, human. Tess Berry-Hart – who helps to run the advocacy charitable fund, Calais action – has provided a taut script to force us to think, and think hard, about the real plight of refugees from war zones desperate for a better life in Europe. Eventually the three are joined by a smooth talking American (John Schwab) was has been asleep elsewhere in the hold. His gift of the gab doesn’t fool the others for long. This man is not what he pretends to be and Schwab makes him suitably manipulative and untrustworthy.

All the acting in this show is outstanding and director David Mercatali makes skilled use of the talents of his four person cast who listen attentively and bounce off each other with real attention to detail. Milly Thomas as Joey is gritty, determined and still until she gets angry and eventually distraught. Hers is a beautifully controlled performance and she’s very compelling to watch. Debbie Korley is riveting as the dangerous, terrified Sarah, vomiting and shouting – when she isn’t dropping her defences and being relatively friendly. She has a way of using the whites of her eyes in the gloom to indicate that she’s much less than stable.

The biggest accolade must, however go to Jack Gouldbourne as Iz, Joey’s younger brother. Fresh from youth theatre this is his first professional job. Gouldbourne’s character is initially naïvely and ebulliently excited about the promise of a new life. He jumps up and down with glee and makes silly jokes. Then he gets swept up in the fears and anxieties of the others and things which he doesn’t understand. Eventually when Schwab as Kayffe graphically spells out the terrible truth about the sort of work which really awaits him – as a virtually imprisoned, pimped rent boy – the horror on Gouldbourne’s face and his terrified weeping is something I shall not forget for a long time.

Yes, it’s an acutely distressing piece but we all need to address these issues relating to human beings in the direst of straits so it’s good to have them spelled out. And it’s a fine piece of theatre, full of dramatic tension.

Originally published by Sardines Theatre (professional)-Cargo&reviewsID=2473

Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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