By Fabienne Darge
08.02.2018 / Le Monde
Fasten your seatbelts: you’re about to embark on a 4,000-mile journey from Goma, Congo, to Lausanne, Switzerland — all within the space of two hours. However, you won’t be travelling by plane, train or automobile; it’s the theatre that will transport you in a new venture by the Rimini Protocol collective who, together with Swiss director Stefan Kaegi, have spent the last fifteen years developing a new kind of playful, immersive documentary performance.
Kaegi, a gangly, youthful 44-year-old, has devised an unprecedented technique: a theatre in a truck, carrying 50 spectators on a strange journey that blends reality with fiction. It was first unveiled at the 2006 Avignon Festival with Cargo Sofia-Avignon, where Kaegi followed the progress of two Bulgarian truck drivers through a very different Cité des Papes than the one typically seen by festival-goers.
Since then the white articulated truck — which in a previous life would have transported meat — has been driven all over the world, as far afield as Japan. The principle is always the same: to take the audience on two parallel journeys, one very much real, usually around the urban periphery where the ‘performance’ takes place, and another fictional journey that is conducted by the two — entirely genuine — truck drivers who play the characters in these Cargos.
An astonishing map
Naturally, each story is unique to the city that Stefan and his truck are exploring, but over the years they have cumulatively sketched out an astonishing map of our globalised world, seen from the insightful perspective of the movement of people and goods. In Lausanne, around which the truck will continue to trundle until the end of March, Kaegi chose to focus the narrative on two very different characters with very different life stories: Roger Sisonga, a 30-something Congolese driver employed by a freight company, and Denis Ischer, a dyed-in-the-wool Swiss business-owner in his 60s.
This is the starting point for Kaegi’s performance, which lets you experience the journey from Goma to Lausanne via the green hills of Rwanda, the fishing villages of Tanzania, the port of Dar-es-Salaam, the sea crossing to Antwerp and finally the arrival in Switzerland. At the same time, you experience another journey: a fascinating and increasingly hypnotic peregrination through a world of motorways, interchanges, bypasses, garages, car parks, logistics centres and gigantic depots.
In the event, once you have settled into the tiered seating you find yourself facing the large picture window that has been installed in one side of the truck. This window serves not only as a view of the outside world, framing the reality that Kaegi has carefully chosen to show, but also a projection screen, projecting you into the parallel reality of the countries that you are passing through.
After two hours of journey time, this continual back-and-forth between the projected images and what you ‘really’ see outside produces a truly unique experience that neatly distils what our lives have become today: nomadic, rootless, everywhere and nowhere; a life where images have become part and parcel of reality.
Diametrically opposed lives
However, it is the presence of the two drivers that brings a human dimension to the project, taking turns at the wheel as the journey progresses and discussing their lives via an audio feed from inside the truck’s cab. Despite their diametrically opposed lives the two men have clearly established a firm friendship, and as we witness them interacting at close quarters there is much we can learn about the lives we live today, and the relationship between Africa and Old Europe.
Roger Sisonga’s life is the more chaotic, since he was recruited into the war in Rwanda aged 13, before finally being able to emigrate and, one snowy day, ending up in Switzerland. Denis Ischer’s is typical of the post-war European middle class, sheltered from conflict and violence and steeped in prosperity.
But all this is dealt with lightly. Stefan Kaegi explores these lives with a delicate touch, never slipping into judgement or pathos. His approach is closer to cartography, but this in no way precludes a sense of poetry — quite the opposite, in fact. Much like his truck, as it wends its way among the tower blocks, encouraging you to wonder at the mysterious lives led by figures glimpsed through glowing windows against the night sky.