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“Are you sitting comfortably?” We obediently fastened our seatbelts. “Then welcome to Bulgaria.” The theatre’s brakes were noisily released and the juggernaut packed with 50 spectators eased into the rush-hour traffic. Off on a four-day journey to France via Serbia, Croatia, Austria, and Germany, a.k.a. a two-hour mystery trip round Paris’s industrial hinterland with two Bulgarian lorry drivers as our leading men.
Confused? Me too, till I figured out director Stefan Kaegi’s game. His collective Rimini Protokoll has a record of productions about unsavoury aspects of the working world, including mass sackings after the collapse of Belgian airline Sabena. Cargo goes further by going mobile and has already been adapted for different towns. It combines performance theatre and documentary to take a poke at globalisation as lived by long-distance drivers, those nomads of an enlarged Europe who shift everything from fish to toilet paper, juggle itineraries to avoid war zones, use backhanders of cigarettes or porn magazines to cross borders and operate under constant surveillance. Video clips and statistics woven into the action coldly recount real-life legal proceedings against the Willi Betz transport empire for false papers and corruption.
The show plays havoc with our expectations. Screens roll down the lorry’s glass sides to seal us in hermetically for Jörg Karrenbauer’s video sequences. A webcam in the driver’s cabin builds peculiar intimacy with Ventzislav Borrisov and Nedyalko Nedyalkov, who chit-chat via a translator while dodging very real traffic and bolshy commuters. When the screens go up, the customs checkpoint turns out to be a motorway tollbooth, the cargo scanner a carwash. We lap up every bit of the make-believe. The biggest surprise is arriving at Rungis, the vast wholesale market that Parisians whiz past at high speed, to discover its poetry and ritual: a ballet of manoeuvring vehicles, all-night cafés, and icy fish hall receiving global consignments.
Folk song filters into the lorry. Heads swerve to pinpoint the lonely figure of Valentina Traianova in a car park. Then on a grotty roundabout. And finally, racing us on her bike to our final destination, the Opéra Bastille. Singing to the end.
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