Review: Cargo Club

  • Review: Cargo Club

    Nestled in the unrecognisable Sue Benner at Metro Arts is glorious secret: The Cargo Club.

    This is multicultural theatre like you've never experienced it before. Part cabaret, part ancient ritual, part spoken word, part live art, Cargo Club is all of these and none of them. A collaboration of The Centre For Australasian Theatre and DarahRouge, they call themselves "Transcultural Underground for Thoroughly Good Social Intercourse" and honestly I couldn't think of a more apt way to decribe what I experienced.

    Above is an artwork with 'all land is sacred' and 'no war' graffiti from all the languages of the performance. The story is told in a blend of Japanese, Indonesian, Dutch, English, Spanish, Italian, Tetun and Papua New Guinean and the most enchanting thing about this work is that no apologies are made for the fact that an English speaker is only hearing portions of the text. The crux of this work for me was that it is entirely self assured and speaks with authority on colonialism, dispossession and cultural identity and does not ask white folks opinions on the matter. There are cultural truths such as the morning for sacred land or the performance of rituals that are thousands of years old that white euro-centric culture don't understand. I found it brave and wonderful that The Cargo Club not-so-gently (but most charmingly) put me in my place. 

    This is an image of 'the white man' character performing a song about privilege that was so true it had to be funny or you'd cry. This white man sang about how life was easy for him and the audience (mostly white) had a split reaction. Some, those who maybe have been exposed to this discourse before or who were able to empathise with the other characters and not see this as an attack, they laughed. Others, who perhaps were expecting a colour-blind love fest that ignored the very real violence white invasion is responsible for, well, they were silent. It seemed they might even be offended. Good. Something I found wonderful about Cargo Club is that they were hitting hard marks about white privilege and yet were not inaccessible: they draw you in and the infectious energy and joy of this secret place won't allow you to sit on the sidelines and get huffy. 

    This work is the definition of 'get amongst it': action happens throughout the space, and often if you're sucked in too far to one well-lit and loud performer, you'll miss a glorious exchange or moment of stillness happening elsewhere. The way this piece is crafted is masterful: you could watch ten times and piece together ten different narratives depending on where you looked. I found the concurrent sound and images exciting rather than overwhelming and I think a smarter person than me could make a link between the pieces of story you might want to watch above others and the white commercial gaze inflicted on non-white cultural identities. 

    Boats and the ocean were a recurring theme that was used to remind us that every island in our cluster out here in the Asia Pacific region have boats. We have all wanted to explore and to live with and around the ocean, and yet Australia sets itself apart from our Pacific neighbours and is terrified of strangers coming in boats...the very thing we did not so long ago. 

    The intercutural snapchat...what an idea! It seemed to be equal parts the snippets we share of culture that mean next to nothing and can be tokenised (white yoga girls insisting on saying namaste to everyone I'm looking at you) but also a deeper and more exciting idea: what if we could take snapshots of our different experiences and share them on equal footing like snapchat? What if someone from PNG could say "this is me and this is how I work my land" and everyone all over the world recieve that image and accept it as fact? One of the themes that resonated with me is this idea of cultural truth. That you don't have to be able to 'white up' a message for it to be valid (I mean of course you don't). So when people did dance, ritual, song in languages and forms that were foreign to me, it was treated as something we were lucky to be witness to, not something that existed for our benefit. I think Cargo Club is on a wavelength of cultural identify and acceptance that most of us haven't caught up to yet and that's honestly thrilling to see in the Brisbane scene. Go see this work. It closes Saturday 18th February and it is so worthy of your attention. You will be a little lost, you won't catch everything (or even half of everything!) but you will have an amazing time, you will see powerful images and you will dance. 

    Cargo Club is part of the BrisAsia festival and is the first work of 2017 at MetroArts. More information here and here.