Sitting at home I am instructed, through headphones, to dial my volume to the max and then down a couple of notches. As I fiddle with the volume settings, shots of a large cargo truck driving to an unknown location flash across the screen. Future Cargo, the sci-fi tinged dance theatre creation from Frauke Requardt and David Rosenberg, is intended to be witnessed in person. Nevertheless, watching from the comfort of home does not hinder the experience; my computer screen becomes its own black box theatre. The truck parks. One side begins to raise. The interior is illuminated, spotlighting out in contrast to the black London skyline. What transpires from here is a series of absurd vignettes, skimming past us in a blur of fringe dresses, watercoolers and carnival rides. Three performers, clad head-to-toe in shiny silver bodysuits, glide across a conveyor belt in an endless cycle of disparate scenes involving a menagerie of mundane everyday objects.
Future Cargo is certainly a logistical wonder: I spend most of this production’s run time yearning to be a fly on the back wall, privy to how this trio can perform through the constant run of a travellator, juggling props, costume changes and set pieces. This band of performers are mesmerising, at times hypnotic, in the effortless synchronisation of their movement. The costuming here from Hannah Clark is endearingly kitschy, not so much a blockbuster sci-fi as a B-list interpretation of extra-terrestrial life – but in the most enjoyable way.
Ben and Max Ringham’s sound design is the universal language binding this production’s incongruous elements together. The duo boast a dense electronic soundscape that acts as its own organism, adapting and evolving alongside the performers’ movements. Expansive and otherworldly, the music often feels directly lifted from the soundtracks to Arrival or Annihilation. In other instances, it ventures into the kind of trip-hop territory that bands like Portishead would mingle around, or slithering into jazz segments that Bob Fosse could have a field day with.
Future Cargo contains all the necessary ingredients to make a profound piece of theatre with snapshot moments that could reach out and speak to themes of humanity, our purpose, or life outside of our solar system. Are these humanoid figures a mirror of ourselves? Are they alien lifeforms? This is where Future Cargo feels suspended in animation, with any semblance of narrative cohesion left to drift in orbit. The truck driver, for example, is a character whose story could be central in understanding the origins of these figures and their travelling stage. They are present for the entire performance but remain inconsequential to the way it unfolds. It is glaring plot holes such as this that become frustrating as an audience member: moments of stillness, the travellator halting as the dancers take a moment to press against the glass and look out at us, are yanked away as the belt churns once more. The infinite cycle continues, curtailing the triumph of this technical marvel.
In Future Cargo’s final moments, a dancer climbs out on the roof of the freight truck wearing an astronaut’s suit. They gaze out at the black abyss of the London sky, a source of life gazing up at a universe that makes them appear miniscule. This climax should feel immense, larger than life. With a lack of narrative to cling onto, this moment plays out a touch too meaningless. Frauke and Rosenberg have certainly devised a spectacle, but one that lacks enough gravity to ground it into a fully realised production. Future Cargo’s universe remains relatively unexplored.
Future Cargo was on tour and available to stream online over Summer 2021. For more information, please see The Place’s website.