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Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: David Mercatali Interview
Image Credit: David Mercatali
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: David Mercatali Interview
Image Credit: Cargo

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: David Mercatali Interview

1 July 2016 Tom Faber

David Mercatali is an award-winning stage director, known for his brave productions of new writing, often exploring darker themes. His timely new play, Cargo, is written by Tess Berry-Hart and portrays exiles sitting in a cargo container, waiting to arrive at a better life. We talked to him about the Calais camp, stage design and dark theatre.

London Calling: What first attracted you to Cargo?

David Mercatali: We are currently going through the greatest humanitarian crisis of my lifetime. I’ve been very engaged with this in real life. I’ve gone over to Calais and raised money with Tess Berry-Hart the writer. When she said that she was writing a play about the refugee crisis, which took us into that experience of having to travel in very dangerous circumstances, I was desperate to do it.

It’s something I care about and theatre is the best medium to tell these sorts of stories. It’s essentially an empathetic medium because of the direct engagement between audience and performer. The play is the perfect depiction of this crisis as everyone needs to see it.
 

LC: What about your time in Calais fed into your direction of the production?

DM: You can’t help but take in peoples’ lives. You’re somewhat in awe of the people you meet and you also feel totally helpless. You want to help them and it weighs on you. Trying to understand what motivates someone to take such a long and perilous journey, that fed into our characters’ motivations.

 

LC: A common misconception is that people are coming in an opportunistic way whereas many don’t realize that a lot of people don’t want to leave their homes.

DM: Every person you speak to talks about pride of home. They love their home and ultimately they want to go back. They’re not leaving it because they hate it or because they’ve made a calculated decision that here is better, they left because they need to. If anyone went to Calais, they wouldn’t think that anyone had chosen to be there.
 

LC: The play is set inside a cargo container. Is it quite specific in terms of the characters’ nationalities?

DM: The nationality of the characters is not clear at the beginning of the play. The identity that Tess explores in the play is something that shows the universality of peoples’ pride of home. It puts us in a position of asking, ‘what would we do if we were in that place?’
 

LC: Do you explore the conflict between groups of refugees?

DM: A lot of conflict is explored. It’s a play that takes us into the heart of a very dangerous world and I think this does mirror the challenges that people face. Ultimately every single person who has managed to get to Calais has had to put themselves into the hands of people who they wouldn’t automatically trust. These dynamics and relationships are explored hugely in the play. People are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.
 

LC: How was it recreating the feel of a shipping container in a theatre?

DM: It’s the most incredible thing, all down to Max Dorey the designer who I’ve worked with before. I love setting him challenges, and he always meets them. His idea of how we turn that space into a cargo container and give the people that experience is going to be quite something. We’re doing something with the Arcola space that really pushes the boundaries, and there’s nothing more exciting than doing that.
 

LC: Does the play have a specific political angle?

DM: All work is political, if it cares about people. Obviously this piece is related to something that is at the height of most of our political consciences at the moment. Ultimately I feel that Tess’ play is a call for empathy. That’s the best thing we could be doing right now.
 

LC: The whole play takes place in one small space. Is it in a theatrical tradition, like ‘No Exit’?

DM: That’s an interesting comparison because of the claustrophobic nature of the space. What’s fantastic is that the piece works in a closed space and closed time construct of theatre. The audience sees everything. It’s the sort of theatre that is utterly thrilling because you know that the audience and the performers have gone on that journey together.
 

LC: You worked a lot with Philip Ridley before. Are you drawn towards darker theatrical work?

DM: Right now you only need to go on the internet or look outside your door or read a newspaper to see darkness around you all the time. Writers are reflecting that and I see they’re reflecting some sort of truth. But all the writers I work with; Tess, Philip Ridley and the others, all find some sort of hope within that. That’s equally important to me.

 

Cargo is at the Arcola Theatre from 6th July – 6th August. Book tickets online.

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