Friday, 10 June 2016

A Cargo of Dramaturgy: Tess Berry-Hart @ Arcola 2016

Arcola Theatre, 24 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London E8 3DL Wednesday 6th July – Saturday 6th August 2016
Goods get damaged all the time. Wouldn’t want to spoil the cargo, now, would we?
Cargo is an enthralling new play from author and playwright Tess Berry-Hart (Someone to Blame, Sochi 2014). Directed by Evening Standard Award nominee David Mercatali (Little Light, Radiant Vermin), this timely world premiere is a tense and provocative thriller that reveals just how much people are willing to risk in search of a better life.
A group of exiles sit in the dark of a container ship with nothing but the clothes on their backs and their wits to rely on. Their homes have been destroyed and their lives upturned, forcing them to take a great leap into the unknown.

As they journey ever closer to their destination in the hope of finding a future, they question what awaits them and if those who pose the greatest threat to their safety might in fact be concealed amongst them. But where have they come from? And who are they?

What was the inspiration for this performance?
I’ve been working as a volunteer aid worker (for refugee rights group Calais Action) sending aid to Calais, Dunkirk and other refugee camps in Europe for almost a year now. I’ve organised, helped load and shipped off many cargo containers of aid for the Greek islands. At the same time, I’d been working my play, Cargo, which centres around refugees, and I thought, why not actually stage it inside a cargo container, to give the audience a sense of what it’s like to be a refugee needing to travel secretly through borders when all Europe wants to do is keep you out. 

How did you go about gathering the team for

Myself and the director, David Mercatali, have previously worked with most of the crew – Max Dorey (set), Max Pappenheim (sound), Christopher Nairne (lighting) - in other productions. For the cast I workshopped the first fifteen minutes of Cargo at the Nuffield Youth Theatre in Southampton, which was where I found my youngest actor, 17-year old Jack Gouldbourne. 

How did you become interested in making performance?
When I was 16 I went to see a performance of Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle at the Liverpool Everyman. I’d never been much into theatre before. At school it had always been Shakespeare or farces before, but this production was something else. It was intense and visceral and really affected me. It felt exciting and ahead of the curve, and I knew I wanted to make theatre that would affect others equally. 

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
My last two pieces have both been modern political verbatim theatre, which consisted of interviewing people and creating a play out of their stories. Although Cargo isn’t verbatim, it is directly informed by my experiences of visiting the camp at Calais and encountering refugees and unaccompanied minors there. 

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
I’d like to give audience the direct feeling of how it is to be a refugee. To have to travel, putting your trust in strangers who might not wish you well. To experience the fear, the anxiety and the danger. 

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
We consulted with Max the designer on whether to have a realistic or a representative set, on the understanding that this would inform any experience the audience was having. We decided on setting it in the near-dark and in the round, so that the audience would be part of the cargo being carried. 

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?
I write a wide variety of pieces so I wouldn’t consider myself as following any particular tradition; though I note that my last theatre pieces have all been political and challenging – Someone To Blame which told the story of a real-life miscarriage of justice, and Sochi 2014 which interviewed LGBT+ Russians after the passing of the anti-gay propaganda laws in Russia on the eve of the Sochi Olympics. So I guess I can’t help but want to bring these issues into theatre to make a change.

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