Cargo @ Oval House, London

cast list
Maria Corcodoba
Steven Miller
Ted Pleasance
Ian Rose

written by
Ben Richards

directed by
Michael Longhurst

In the back of a juggernaut bound for Britain, four Croatian emigrants ponder the future that awaits them. Money has changed hands and they are convinced, superficially at least, that they are on their way to something better. Ben Richard’s intense and claustrophobic drama begins in a relatively gentle manner, but inevitably as their journey progresses the play ventures into far darker places.

Though a little more back story would have been welcome the four characters are admirably brought to life by a more than competent cast. Aggressive but nave Branko (Ian Rose) and his traumatised sister Mira (Maria Corcobado); Damia (Ted Pleasance), an elderly, ailing doctor, and Ivan (Steven Miller) who, though the youngest of the four, has already experienced the UK asylum system and is justifiably cynical about what lies ahead. Initially wary of each other their confinement draws them together. Even though Branko and Ivan take against each other they recognise that cooperation is the only way of getting through their ordeal. But then, after a rather slow and halting start, their water supplies run out, the air vents are turned off and a bleak and brutal conclusion suddenly looks to be inevitable.

Richards has really thought through the realities of travelling in such conditions, torch beams add to the atmosphere of the piece, and one of the play’s few light-hearted moments comes when the men sing loudly together so that Mira can go to the toilet behind a stack of boxes. The narrow upstairs space at South London’s Oval House Theatre doubles well as the back of a lorry, the floor strewn with cardboard and intelligent use of lighting and sound providing a real sense of motion.

A strong cast prevent things from ever sliding into clich, even if the dialogue occasionally tends towards the heavy-handed (you can tell that Mira is traumatised because she sometimes breaks into song in a beautifully damaged manner.) Their accents rarely waver and they all deal admirably with the physicality of the later scenes. Maria Corcobado is particularly impressive as Mira, and Prince Harry look-alike Steven Miller gives an intense and moving performance as Ivan. Though the pacing could afford to be tighter in the play’s early stages, director Michael Longhurst handles the increasingly tense scenario with skill.

On its first production at the 2002 Edinburgh Festival, Cargo was nominated for Amnesty International’s Freedom of Expression Award and it tackles many still depressingly relevant issues in a vivid and memorable manner. From Ivan’s bitter description of life as an asylum seeker in Britain, the detention centres and the infamous now defunct voucher scheme, to the disturbing dnouement that illustrates the lengths desperate people will go to for the chance of better life. Though flawed, this production is a very powerful and necessary piece of theatre.

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