It takes a village: Building a settlement onstage at the Barbican in 300 el x 50 el x 30 el

Belgian company FC Bergman explain the inspiration for their new show, running at the Barbican

FC Bergman/Toneelhuis, 300 el x 50 el x 30 el
FC Bergman/Toneelhuis, 300 el x 50 el x 30 el
© Sofie Silbermann

300 el x 50 el x 30 el is inspired by the biblical story of the Ark of Noah, with a very religious community in fear of an impending disaster, and not knowing what to do. That was the real starting point – the most archetypical, the first real apocalyptic story. As a company, we always try to start with something in literature, something that everyone can understand.

From the point of view of the audience, you only see the open square of a village and the exterior of six cabins. There is a large forest in the back and a little pool in the front. The insides of the houses are covered. The interiors are therefore revealed by a camera, which circles around the production on a little dolly on a platform. Everything occurs privately, and what is happening on stage is actually very little – you might see a character crossing from one house to the other across the square. So a lot of the time you'll be watching the screen.

We get more inspiration from cinema than we do from theatre

While there are actors we hire on the stage, the FC Bergman company are those behind the camera, and I'll be sat on the dolly. We're the external eye, watching the performance and creating the rhythms and the tone of the piece. We were inspired by Scandinavian cinema – especially Lars von Trier or Roy Andersson.

300 el x 50 el x 30 el
300 el x 50 el x 30 el
© kurt van der elst

There's a lot of video in theatre, but it's mostly used for aesthetic reasons, making things bigger or giving an extra accent to an element. We like to use cinema as a storyteller. The camera can be very intimate. I'd say we get a lot more inspiration from cinema than we do from the theatre. It's a film on stage, rather than just being a theatre performance with some additional video.

We originally only wanted to do the show as a one-off

It's an old show already, first performed in 2011 as a one-off when we were an emerging company. As we only expected to do it once, we thought we'd do something that we'd never be able to repeat – with 80 extras and 15 actors and lots of set. We were even about to throw the set into the garbage (thankfully we didn't!). It was also first performed in January, so we took all the old Christmas decorations that weren't being used anymore and placed them in the set. Then all of a sudden it started to tour, and seven years later we're still doing it (I think we've done 40 or 50 shows now).

Back when it first opened, the show was created in six weeks, at very short notice. We only really rehearsed it once or twice and when it was performed it didn't feel like it was actually finished. We've got a running joke that our performances are never finished when they open! There are so many things still to explore – people have liked it a lot but we've never stopped adding more details.

Interestingly, it was the smoothest creation process we've ever faced. Because the time was so short and, as we thought it was going to be a one-off, if we failed then it didn't really matter. We built all of the houses ourselves without any professional constructors as we didn't have the budget (it was just us with some friends) so now we're quite attached to them.

300 el x 50 el x 30 el runs until 3 February.