There’s a lad, must be twelve or thirteen, who has a basketball, who’s stood at the edge of the temporary fence outside the Lowry. Basketball is heavy and satisfying in his hands. He bounces it with his mates – they watch the folk in silver morphsuits dancing in a freight container – he says something to his mate and they laugh – they bounce the ball some more – he looks like he has an idea. He goes around the back of the container, inspects the side of it, looks down at his ball and looks at the solid, corrugated wall of the container. It’d bounce back. If you chucked it, it’d bounce back to you.
And I, as a heap of setting gelatin, pooled on the floor, stuck for fifty minutes, pray for him to lob it: “Dear basketball lad, please chuck that fucking ball. Lob it hard as you can and see what happens. I’ll back you up.” Basketball lad has more sense than that, of course. My prayers aren’t strong enough. He probably wouldn’t get his ball back.
We’re not allowed to sit too close to the shipping container. There is a swathe of blank concrete on the ground between it and us. Well, they’re going to come out of the container and dance there eventually, aren’t they? You’d think.
We’re outside and in public, except it’s the sort of outside and in public where you’re being watched, where you’re encouraged to move through and not dwell. Except for today: we have tickets.
I’m very aware of the people sat around the edge of the fencing who are watching the performance anyway. They don’t have headphones, so they can’t hear the soundtrack, which seems a shame – I don’t see any need for my headphones and I’d rather there were just some big speakers. The headphones cut me off from the other audience members – we’re all at a distance from each other. I feel, too, that my being here wouldn’t change the show at all. I feel like I am watching a rehearsal. It’s all very clean, very rehearsed.
Within ten, maybe fifteen minutes, Future Cargo has played its hand. The front of the freight container unfolds to reveal three large windows, figures in silver morphsuits glide past, making slow, repetitive and mirrored movements. It’s absurd – and that’s entertaining at first, but we don’t go anywhere else.
In the soundscape, there are occasional extracts from interviews with alien and UFO witnesses. These don’t gel with the rest of the show’s visuals to me – there’s no flying, the lighting is very understated – we’re not looking at a spaceship, we’re looking at a lorry. The world inside the container isn’t visiting, it’s self-contained; it subsumes the driver of the lorry into itself and they become part of the silver-suited troupe and then it seals up and is gone. If they’re inside a lorry, what does it mean that they’re ‘cargo’? Where have they come from and why does the driver of the truck not know what they are or that they’re in there?
Much of the alien’s dances involve them moving esoteric objects around – bowling balls, water coolers, potted plants – there’s a late-eighties kind of futurism about it, the kind where everything’s slightly pink or blue and we all live in offices. The only reading I can see is that these vaguely consumerist objects which are being shipped to an Ikea or somewhere have gained sentience, and swallow their driver with them. There are some interesting ideas but they’re scatty and underdeveloped, and the whole is structured in such a way that the brief fifty minutes I’m there feels much longer. One dancer seems to briefly consider the outside world – the limits of reality distort, the soundscape and the lighting bend – but then they go back to dancing in wigs. The boundaries are set early on and they stay set for the majority of the piece.
As a kind of resolution, one alien climbs onto the roof in a spacesuit. And the boundaries of the world might be broken for the lorry driver, sat on the roof, but they are not broken for us. The concrete gap between us and the performance is uncrossable. Whether with aliens or just professional dancers in morphsuits, there will be no contact.
The temporary fencing is flimsy. Part of it collapses when we’re arriving – the rest of the public are still here, just another kind of audience on cheaper, quieter tickets. When it comes to higher beings, basketball lad is my god for the hour. The world is on a knife edge, he can tip it if he wants. God of using space and making noise. God of throwing rocks. God of making his own fun.
Future Cargo ran at The Lowry, Salford, from 19-20 June. It tours the UK until 4th September. More info here.