Don’t forget the dead sheep. The bonkers madness of 300 el x 50 el x 30 el by Toneelhuis/FC Bergman

Barbican Theatre, London
January 31, 2018

Maggie Foyer

Mime is a free ranging, alternative form of theatre, but even so FC Bergman’s 300 el x 50 el x 30 el pushes the boundaries. The stage is transformed into a leaf-littered eco-system, including a forest, a pond and a cluster of rough huts. Moisture hangs in the air, but the fear of an imminent flood is backgrounded by the claustrophobic unnamed fear of this impenetrable community.

The biblical dimensions in the title relate to the size of Noah’s ark, humanity’s escape from a sinful world to new beginnings. But the settlement of six huts and their eccentric inhabitants have no such clear pathway, each squirreling away in their personal nest playing with their nuts or fellow nutters, amplifying their peculiarities to manic intensity.

Gert Portael in 300 el x 50 el x 30 el by Toneelhuis/FC BergmanPhoto Kurt van der Elst
Gert Portael in 300 el x 50 el x 30 el by Toneelhuis/FC Bergman
Photo Kurt van der Elst

The front doors lead onto the forest clearing where a laconic fisherman, who has been centre stage since the beginning, continues to try his luck fishing in the pond through most of the performance. However, we are treated to the rear view, the back side of life, as the camera and crew (a remarkably fit team) run a continuous marathon round the stage capturing the other side and displaying it on the three screens surrounding the stage. The sheer madness of the characters raises a chuckle: the woman with a ginger topknot and the appetite of a horse, the abject failure of the darts player to ever hit the board and the banality of soft porn spiced only by a most peculiar birth. It’s a dystopian world of veiled threats and outright aggression locked into a rigid yet bonking-mad conformity.

The climax comes when, like Winston and Julia in Huxley’s 1984, the mad bomber plans to elope with the piano player. Despite their odd correspondence in piano notes answered by firecrackers they seem to be the most real of the characters. Sadly, their plans are scuppered, and the village turns on him bolting him into his hut where he takes his life in flame and gunpowder. This leads the whole community to a bizarre mass suicide by dunking their heads into buckets of water. When this does not succeed, they bounce their way to salvation, jumping up and down to the pounding insistent voice of Nina Simone’s Sinnerman for the final ten minutes. Only the innocence of the little girl, protected like the holy fool from complete understanding, seems to remain unscathed in the mayhem as she runs, delighted, onto the stage at the end.

Oh, and did I mention the eels? And the parrot? And the dead sheep hauled out of the pond? It was still hanging there, dripping through the enthusiastic curtain calls and as the audience drifted homeward mulling over the experience.