REVIEW: Cargo, Arcola Theatre

For anyone in doubt of how immigrants would go to start a new life in a different country need to get themselves to the Arcola theatre to see this brutal and horrifying play….

Cargo at the Arcola Theatre, Milly Thomas and Jack Gouldbourne,  Photo by Mark Douet.jpg
Milly Thomas and Jack Gouldbourne. Photograph credit: Mark Douet. 

From the second you step into auditorium for this production of Tess Berry-Hart’s intense drama, you automatically feel involved with what is about to happen. Max Dorey’s set places the audience literally into a cargo container, placing them on uncomfortable seating – ensuring their attention is gripped from beginning to end.

Cargo is a play that follows the fortunes of  a group of four being transported to what they assume is a better life. Filled with twists and turns, it is certainly a play that could be classed as the ultimate emotional rollercoaster, leaving even the audience uncertain about who is the most trustworthy of the group.

David Mercatali’s production is a slow burning, but increasingly intense as each of the characters become increasingly paranoid as they try and figure out who exactly they are sharing this gloomy cargo container with. Perhaps at times it does become slightly over the top with hysteria, losing the impact of the story at occasional moments.

There are also moments of unclarity, details that could perhaps have been made slightly clearer such as the references to rebellions and uprisings that might not have an impact on the overall story, but would have added a bit more depth on what the characters are running from.

However, this doesn’t distract from the powerful performances that are delivered by all of the cast. Each of the characters are so vivid that it is impossible to select the strongest out of them all, with each cast member providing a unique perspective of what it is like to be an immigrant trying to sort out a better life for themselves, providing a deeply emotional insight into desperation these people feel and the lengths they would go to to protect their dreams of a new future.

Politicians should come along and take a look at this play as it humanises all the people that some people consider a ‘problem’ in society. But it also gets you wondering if  roles were reversed how we as individuals  would cope with having to leave everything we know behind to come to a new country for a different life?

Vivid, important and brilliant, Cargo is a play that you need to go into knowing as little as possible so that you can feel the real force of what is happening with the numerous twists that happen throughout – hence why I have tried not to give too much away in terms of the characters and plot.

But it is well acted, wonderfully intense and one of the most important pieces of work that is being shown in London at the moment.

Cargo plays at the Arcola Theatre until the 6th August. For more information and to book tickets visit:

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