The fusion of film and theatre entangles the audience’s gaze in an ever-evolving web of sound, movement and visuals. This sensory overload replaces linguistic expression, as 300 el x 50 el x 30 el is a mime play, part of London’s International Mime Festival. It is a highly stimulating and mystifying dreamscape; coherent meaning is intangible, existing not as a whole, but only within the individual vignettes. When these vignettes are tied together, a bubbling anxiety-ridden whole is created, refusing definition or lucidity. Form overtakes meaning in Toneelhuis/FC Bergman’s 300 el x 50 el x 30 el.
Six small huts are nestled into a woodland stage, appearing dully homogenous on the outside. But FC Bergman utilise a dolly, used to wheel the cameraman around a track that encloses the village. The camera peeps into the back of huts, which is live streamed onto a big screen suspended above the stage.
The camera peeps into the back of the huts to reveal the darkly comic, the absurdly quirky and the bizarrely surreal happenings behind closed doors. The camera controls the pace of the play, sometimes speeding, sometimes creeping around the perimeter: it is an omnipresent eye exposing the hidden. This revelatory element is reminiscent of Brechtian theatre, as it proclaims the self-aware nature of the theatrical processes, and the gulf between theatre and reality.
In one hut, a peculiar family of three bemusedly watch their insatiable mother engulf the feast laid before her. When no edibles remain, her appetite turns to the furniture. In another hut, a wife despairingly births a conch shell, which her husband failingly uses as a tool for erotic pleasure. In another, the sinister side of lad culture and scapegoating is explored; a game of darts among drunken men descends into victimisation, as one man’s eye is replaced by a bloody bandage.
Each hut has a unique identity, taking on an element of humanity often repressed into the realm of the private. It propels this element into the extreme, taking it to the untrodden depths of the absurd. The intimate, fragmented and non-linear narratives turbulently progress behind the safety of the walls. There is little on-stage action, but the well-known tropes of love, betrayal, fear and hope are fluidly created from the awkward, often confrontational episodes in the communal area.
Religion is one current that does run through the play, as 300 el x 50 el x 30 el springs forth from the biblical story of Noah and the flood. The apocalyptic fear and savagery that ensues effervesces up, spreading into to the audience. The play culminates with the fifteen cast members chaotically flinging their limbs in ritualistic unison beneath a crucified sheep. This warped faith, so deviant from any knowable expression of religion is perhaps a dance of praise, evocative of the flood itself.
Elements of the oddball cinematic aesthetics of Wes Anderson and the Scandinavian Roy Anderson are visible, but vague: the young Belgian theatre collective FC Bergman are truly original, and sure to be influential in years to come. One to be followed.
300 el x 50 el x 30 el played at The Barbican Theatre until 3rd February. For more information and tickets, see www.barbican.org.uk/whats-on/2018/event/toneelhuisfc-bergman-300-el-x-50-el-x-30-el