Change Edition

Chaotic and compelling mime meets cinema

Chaotic and compelling mime meets cinema

by Sarita RAO 3 min. 13.01.2023
What goes on behind closed doors in a village waiting for a biblical flood entertains and disgusts
300 el x 50 el x 30 el are the dimensions of Noah's ark, as the villagers await an impending flood
300 el x 50 el x 30 el are the dimensions of Noah's ark, as the villagers await an impending flood
Photo credit: © kurt van der elst |

FC Bergman’s bizarre, chaotic, and strangely compelling theatre work 300 el x 50el x 30 el combines silent acting with a cinematic vision of what goes on behind closed doors.

The 13-member cast are brilliant at communicating without words. The audience laughs at the humour, feels disgusted at the monstrous, and marvels at the general weirdness of a camera circling the action. It’s physically demanding, not just on the cast but the camera crew.

The stage is set with six shacks around a small clearing in a dense pine forest. A single angler sits by a pool. A large screen suspended above the clearing shows a sick old man lying on his bed with sensor pads on his chest. The man gets up, finds a hammer, comes out of one of the huts on stage and heads into the woods. That’s the last we see of him until the end.

The unhappy mother consumes a feast, then starts eating the tablecloth
The unhappy mother consumes a feast, then starts eating the tablecloth
© kurt van der elst |

Around the huts is a circular track, and a film crew circles behind the shacks revealing what is going on inside. In one a woman is gorging herself on a feast, whilst her husband and two children stand around her nervously. In the next, a mother taps her pencil like a metronome while her grown daughter practises the piano. The shack is empty but for the piano and a bathtub. 

In yet another, a woman is sitting on the toilet reading. Her husband is masturbating and holding the receiver of an old fashioned telephone. Outside is a small religious shrine. 

In the fifth hut, four men drink beer and play darts. Inside the last, a solo man wearing a helmet is looking at a model he has made of the village.

Action behind closed doors 

As the camera circles around and around, the actions going on behind closed doors become more macabre. The woman on the toilet strains and gives birth to a giant sea shell, which she adds to her collection. 

The darts players get more dangerous, playing William Tell with a gun and an apple. 

The woman consuming food starts eating the furniture. Her son slips away to investigate the old man's hut. The angler sits quietly until he discovers a dead sheep, which is lifted from the pond.

There is humour, such as when the girl practising the piano does a duet with the men shooting the apple. But there is also something sickening about it.

Waiting for the end of the world

The villagers are waiting for a flood, and the title of the play refers to the dimensions of Noah’s ark. There is something biblical. It could be the end of times or an impending doom, but the audience does not know what this is. 

The sick old man who disappears into the woods with a hammer, going to build an ark
The sick old man who disappears into the woods with a hammer, going to build an ark
© kurt van der elst |

There is religious symbolism from the sacrificial lamb to the ark itself – a boat discovered hidden in the trees. It feels like the villagers are acting out the seven deadly sins, and yet there is  paganism to their rituals too.

You find yourself despising most of the characters, from the mother who consumes endlessly whilst her husband bosses about his daughter and the son sadistically tortures the old man’s caged bird. The men drinking beer taunt one of their gang. The couple appear self-absorbed (her with shells she treats like babies, him with his sexual organ).

Grotesque but not doomed

Are we destined to be doomed because we are so busy doing grotesque things behind closed doors? Is this a comment on a dysfunction so self-absorbed that it doesn't see the impending impact of climate change and rising oceans? It’s hard to tell, and perhaps left open to interpretation on purpose.

There is some solace and plenty of humour in the love story between the piano player and the solo man, who try to run away together. 

No escape

The set designed by Matthijs Kuyer creates a claustrophobic atmosphere, and this works brilliantly with the camera track for the footage which shows on the giant screen suspended above the village. There is no escaping the dirty secrets that flash by on screen, even when the stage is so quiet.

Watching on screen and on stage is quite tiring, which is probably why this performance is just over an hour long. It’s certainly unusual, with a surprising ending. Hours after the performance, flashes of what I’d seen on the screen invaded my mind, particularly the disturbing images.

300el x 50el x 30el will be performed again at the Grand Théâtre on 13 January at 20.00.

The Luxembourg Times has a new mobile app, download here! Get the Luxembourg Times delivered to your inbox twice a day. Sign up for your free newsletters here.