Created and performed by FC Bergman
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
When you think you’ve seen it all, along comes FC Bergman. It is not a football team, but it has the verve and swagger of one in the Premier League. Instead, FC Bergman is a Belgian theatre company specialising in the experimental and with 300 el x 50 el x 30 el the company makes its debut at the Barbican. On the basis of this dark, unsettling show, it’s almost certain that they will return.
The title of the show is quite a mouthful, but it does have meaning. 300 el x 50 el x 30 el are the measurements of Noah’s Ark; God was quite specific in his instructions. However, this play is not a simple retelling of the Flood, despite all the water that makes it on stage. In fact, it’s hard to work out if there is a narrative at all. Playing here as part of the London International Mime Festival, there is no speaking in this play. Instead, FC Bergman relies on the visual, which is often graphic and challenging.
The set, scrupulously designed by the company with Matthijs Kuyer, is stunning. Around a clearing in a forest of what appears to be real trees is a semi-circle of cabins, their interiors hidden from our view. But a cameraman on a trolley, pushed and pulled by three other men, follows the circumference of the stage and films what we cannot see: the images are caught on a giant screen hanging above this forest village. We become voyeurs, spying on quotidian lives: a family eats dinner; a woman practises the piano; a man masturbates; a woman sits on the toilet; a group of men play darts. We see these little lives – our little lives – in pornographic detail.
When the cameraman makes his next loop around the stage to revisit these shacks, the action inside them has moved on and has become darker and nastier. These private scenes reveal themselves to be dirty little secrets, but we cannot avert our eyes. The loose threads of a love story between two of the characters is the only straightforward narrative, as other vignettes flash by, inexplicable and unexplained.
After many revolutions around the village, the crew aren’t just filming the action, but become part of the action themselves. It’s dizzy on stage, and the audience is caught between looking at the stage and watching the screen. The cast, though, move with purpose, and it’s refreshing to see actors of all ages taking part in this strange peep show.
However, just as the voyeurism threatens to become tedious, the play shifts direction and instead it becomes celebratory and bacchanalian, the secrets left behind. We don’t know if the characters are celebrating the beginning or the end of the Deluge, but it doesn’t matter when physical theatre looks like this.
While it’s impossible to categorise, 300 el x 50 el x 30 el is reminiscent of Lars von Trier’s film Antichrist, or even the British horror classic, The Wicker Man. There’s something quite religious, Christian or pagan, about this village at the end of days. And yet, it’s also about humanity and its strengths and weaknesses. Combining film, theatre and dance, this 70-minute show is like Thomas Hobbes’ view of life, ‘nasty, brutish and short’. Thankfully, it’s also thrilling and redemptive.
Runs until 3 February 2018 | Image: Kurt Van Der Elst