Cargo Club (Metro Arts) – theatre review

Sometimes a show is so unique that review words can do little to aptly describe the reality of its shared experience. From the first moments of entry into the Metro Arts Sue Brenner Theatre via its alongside carriageway of welcoming performance artists, Cargo Club presents an enriched multi-artform celebration of culture and tradition in its every nook and cranny.

The work, which is presented in collaboration between North Queensland’s Centre for Australasian Theatre and West Java’s Darahrouge as part of the BrisAsia Festival, sees a host of international performers welcoming audiences to the immersive exploration of global themes and personal experiences. And, as is so often the case with Metro Arts works, the result is interesting rather than potentially pretentious.

As artists move from interacting with the audience (and each other) to performing representation of personal and historical cultural experiences, there is humour and pathos to the multiple dialogues. Stories of colonisation, migration and transformation are unpacked as the performers unload their cargo. But alongside confronting stories from neighbouring West Papua, including of youth taken to Kokoda and reminders of our nation’s own Indigenous shames, is an upbeat welcome number and many moments of comic irony, including a memorable rap outlining white privilege.

Immersion is multi-faceted, as music, monologues and dance occur around audience members who are scattered around the seating and usual stage area. The result is an absolutely unique experience, not only in comparison to other shows but even to other audience members. Although it is initially a fragmentary experience, without a traditional, linear plot, sense can soon be made of its inter-connected threads and overall message.

And there is just so much to look at, packed as the space is with intricate art works, interesting installations and a makeshift musical station. And then there are there is the intricacy of its inventive costumes, complete with their own symbolism regarding, for example, notions of justice. Performers have multiple costumes during the show’s duration, all of which as wonderfully detailed. Indeed, everything is creative to the extreme, with lush lighting evoking emotions as much as practically facilitating aspects such as Asian-inspired shadow play.

Cargo Club is an aesthetic feast for active exploration, which alone makes it worthy of the price of admission. However, more than this, its post-modernist techniques make it is a provocative, politically charged journey through the intergenerational impacts of colonisation, migration and globalisation that not only reminds of privilege but shows that a common language is not required to join in art.

Venue: Metro Arts, Edward St, Brisbane
Dates: 31 January – 18 February 2017

Meredith Walker
For more of Meredith Walker’s theatre reviews, check out Blue Curtains Brisbane.