THE KIDS ARE NOT ALRIGHT: 300EL X 50EL X 30EL @ BARBICAN

PERFORMANCE/THEATRE 

If Ingmar Bergman, David Lynch and Roy Andersson were to collaborate on a project, the product may very well resemble this feverishly surreal, ineffably moving, and strikingly staged work from Belgian theatre company Toneelhuis/FC Bergman, the title of which references the dimensions of Noah’s Ark (rhythmically powerful, vaguely threatening water imagery recurs throughout the evening). The audience enters the auditorium to find a brooding gentlemen, quite still, sitting at the edge of a fishing pond, flanked by two small video screens (and one large one looming above his head) with the image of an elderly man in bed, forlorn in bearing, wired up to some medical equipment, encaged pigeon at his side. You struggle to sense movement in the frame, uncertain whether what you see is a still or live image (barely perceptible movement soon convinces it’s live). As soon as he rises from bed and heads for his door, the curtain rises, transforming what was a cramped space into a sudden broadness, revealing six wood shack dwellings, three each side of the stage surrounding a commons area, a thick grove of trees sealing them off from the greater world. We see the older man emerging from his home and walking off into the forest, seemingly swallowed up. A metal track around the circumference of the set allows for a quartet of production assistants, astride a vehicle reminiscent of the handcar used on railroads for maintenance, to film the interior activities of the village inhabitants, as the audience is only given the public space to see. Behaviour, initially mundane, grows increasingly bizarre, as if a toxic boredom has loosed some pathology in the characters (one family indulges in operatic meals, the voracious matriarch taking to the furniture when food runs out; a stern mother drills her daughter on the piano, all the while a black slime worryingly fills the tub; a gastrically distressed wife eventually passes-or births?-conch shells while her distracted husband casually masturbates; a group of men while away the hours playing games which grow progressively more violent towards each other, and an anxious youth takes to ever more destructive acts against a table-top diorama, which, it becomes clearer, is a recreation of the village). The interior detail of each home is a revelation of design, unfussy but pointed and revealing. An absurdist strain of humour is very nearly always present, which aids enormously in humanising the stories and eliciting a strange compassion for these people trapped, to a degree, in empty ritual, spiritual and emotional malaise, and cosmic abandonment. As the action becomes more frenzied, the camera crew wildly circling the stage, the interior dramas escalating,  you learn to appreciate and respect the tremendous precision of timing that must be in place to capture the exact, pinpoint image in each home as the camera passes-in the climactic moments, the camera whips around to expose the audience itself watching, a gesture that intimately implicates the audience and consciously heightens awareness of the artificiality of the experience simultaneously. Music is used powerfully throughout, especially an incendiary Nina Simone song near the end, scored to a tribal ceremonial dance enacted by the villagers, rigourously dousing their heads (for quite alarming lengths of time) in buckets of water then tossing the spray from their heads. There are a number of memorable images, in addition to those already mentioned: the forest folding up on itself, revealing a void behind; a man in silhouette violently taking axe to boat; an astounding clamour of people rushing the stage in the final moments to stand amongst the main characters; the carcass of a sheep lifted from the pond, elevated over the stage, a deluge of drip allowed to lessen to mere dribble in real time-all quite startling. Threaded through is the tender, heartbreaking story of the young girl pianist and the anxious young man as they plan what is inevitably a futile escape, claimed as they are by the land and custom. A distinct narrative does course through the work, despite the bizarre perspective and aberrant expression, which keeps you engaged and sympathetic. This was part of this year’s London Mime Festival, which has now concluded. I’m linking the Barbican page so that the interested may watch a trailer for the show, which will give a flavour of what the piece offers probably much better than a static image.

http://mimelondon.com/fc-bergman-300el-2018/

 

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