So to what does FC Bergman owe this sudden and early success? The explanation does not really lie in the fact that the actors’ collective now includes several members who have made a name for themselves in films and on television. Marie Vinck has appeared in (among other things) the television series De smaak van De Keyser and in the films Loft and Adem, in which Stef Aerts was impressive in the role of a morose teenager. Then there is Matteo Simoni, who also appeared in the television series David and in the Verheyen film Zot van A (a Flemish adaptation of the successful Dutch film Alles is liefde). So when a photographer takes a group photograph of FC Bergman for the newspaper, he invariably wants those three in front. And yet the trio that then makes up the back row (Bart Hollanders, Joé Agemans and Thomas Verstraeten) is at least as crucial for the group’s internal drive. The six actors met at drama school - the Artesis Hogeschool, formerly the Antwerpse Conservatorium -, from where three of them eventually graduated in 2009-2010. In Flanders the “powered by Dora van der Groen” label helps open doors to the professional sector.
But it is really what FC Bergman achieves on stage that accounts for the its appeal. The group does not appear to be following a straight course. De thuiskomst in 2009 was an idiosyncratic repertoire interpretation of Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming. His subtle but curious brand of realism became expressionism, his universal absurdism a social portrait: The Homecoming suddenly peeled off into a heavy confrontation within a crazed subclass family on a demolition site. Genre Family Flodder, but then exciting. There was a good deal of shouting, hitting out and racing around in a car. In a word, it was raucous. It may resonate, but FC Bergman prefer it to clash. There does not appear to be much dramaturgical thought behind it all. These boys simply have the gift of the gab, that’s how their characters work. They are actors pur sang: with too much testosterone for this genteel, orderly world, but above all too much acting talent to be just another wild young group. Each of them is well able to play different registers convincingly.
Unlike Olympique Dramatique, that earlier theatre group with the no-nonsense acting passion of a football club, FC Bergman does not have to rely on great authors to keep the ball rolling. Its large-scale Wandelen op de Champs-Elysées … (Walking along the Champs-Elysées …) was a typical, almost scriptless cocktail of majestic images and minor, human poetry. You sat looking at it as if at a fascinating trip you found hard to follow, but instinctively understood. Four tables and a burning gas-ring suddenly swished into the air, like utopian torches. Fifteen extras performed a ritualistic and apocalyptic choreography in a dimly lit space, on a floor of loose boards covered in pigeon shit. In nervous slapstick style Simoni tried to have his way with a rabbit and an eel. Then Aerts circled around on a revolving crane, groping for his dream girl Vinck. They never got it together, because that is how FC Bergman sees life. “We often seem to end up with human beings who flounder around striving for something. They believe in the manipulability of the world, but always fail. That human failure is not cynicism, but just something we find very attractive.”
However different the two productions are, they are typical Bergman. Either very worldly or mythological, or carried by text or by image: there is always an underlying surrender that is powered instinctively and intuitively. It is the body that constitutes the motor of this theatre, rather than the idea. Handiwork takes precedence over conceptualism, so half of the work for Wandelen op de Champs-Elysées… involved putting together the revolving crane, a tractor full of animal cages and a majestic, four-metre-high doll. FC Bergman likes height, it likes to aim for the sky. For example, in one of their school projects live sheep are said to have been tossed high into the air to represent clouds. Theirs is an almost cosmic imagination in a boyish craving for the impossible. Or call it ambition, if you prefer. FC Bergman is determined to make a difference. They always perform on location, outside the regular circuit. On many levels this Antwerp club has much in common with the historical avant-garde: in the same movement as it demolishes existing frameworks, it constructs its own new world. Dadaism, futurism, surrealism: this theatre has it all.
So FC Bergman’s success also says more about what is missing in theatre today than about the collective itself. Professionals and public project onto the young Antwerp club their deep longing for more showing off, for more young rebels who enthusiastically set to work with repertoire, for the actors ensemble as the reconfirmed core of the theatre. It is that great expectation which will be the real challenge for FC Bergman: how not to let themselves be ground down under the pressure. They would not be the first promising young actors to burn out prematurely because they have not been given the time to mature. You felt that in their last production Het verjaardagsfeest (The Birthday Party, 2010), another Pinter: the conflict between what the script offers by way of subtle acting opportunities and ‘the FC Bergman trademark’, the desire or compulsion to leave their own mark with surprising images and physical confrontation. One day it will prove to be a good thing that this time things did not entirely work out for FC Bergman, that the show was less enthusiastically received than before. Strong tea needs to stand. Rather than discuss expectations for the future, it would be fairer to look at how FC Bergman fits into today’s theatre. The collective is going in the direction you see with other theatre-makers of the youngest generation: towards a theatre that deliberately opts for visual art brut and specially chosen performance spaces, far removed from the red velvet, where it looks for inspiration in the almost cosmic metaphysics of ‘mankind’. Stefanie Claes, Simon Allemeersch, the Ghent group Tibaldus en andere hoeren: they are all following a trend started by a previous generation (Abattoir Fermé, Peeping Tom, Wolff, In Vitro): the shift from text to image, to the direct experience of film and concert via a beseeching David Lynch-like universe which is aimed more at the unconscious sense of looking than at intellectual ability. FC Bergman owes its success mainly to the effect of and reaction to this age of virtualization, the decline of craftsmanship, the fast consumption of images and increasing spirituality.
published in Ons Erfdeel 2010/4.