”Over the past ten years the Finnish National Theatre has totally reimagined itself, yet it has remained committed to its high artistic profile. The theatre has received critical acclaim and several awards, such as the Theatre of the Year Award in 2012. Mostly recently, in 2018, it was recognized by the Disabled Rights Organisation Kynnys for ‘breaking boundaries and collaborating with various theatre practitioners and companies who give voice to those sectors of society that are perceived as marginal.’ This proves that our artistic mission – to be an open and inclusive theatre – is in touch with contemporary values.”
Mika Myllyaho, Director, 2019
The Finnish National Theatre launches its autumn season on the Main Stage with Sapiens, a new production based on Yuval Noah Harari’s bestseller Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. English language captioning by mobile app has been provided for this performance. Finnish language captioning for the hard of hearing is also available.
Sapiens is the story of a storytelling species. This ironic, provocative piece takes a light-hearted look at who we are and where we come from. A unique combination of nature documentary and audio-visual stagecraft, the show has been jointly created by Minna Leino, the WAUHAUS collective, Laura Haapakangas and Jani-Matti Salo. The text is narrated by Jarmo Heikkinen, whose voice is familiar to audiences from the highly popular television series Avara luonto (Nature’s wide world). The play premières on the Main Stage on September 11th 2019.
“The show is an accurate portrayal of human beings as we know them: inquisitive, inventive, industrious, foolish, tragi-comical and a threat to their environment,” states Mika Myllyaho, Director of the Finnish National Theatre. “I am very proud to have this show playing at the Finnish National Theatre,” he adds.
Dramaturg Minna Leino’s stage adaptation has been conceived as a synthesis between the narrative style of a nature documentary and the playback techniques developed by the WAUHAUS collective, known for their audio-visual and physical expression. The performers create their roles through masks and precise movements that interact with the recorded narrative voice and the overall sound design. As the story progresses from the dawn of time to the present day, the audience follows Homo sapiens in its endeavours, one step at a time, to define its role and its relationship to its surroundings. The familiar diorama exhibits of natural history museums form a visual cavalcade of multi-dimensional landscapes which the performers construct, contemplate, and deconstruct as the narrative unfolds.
The follies and foibles of human nature come under further scrutiny in a number of classic works this autumn. In November, Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman opens on the Main Stage in a new translation by Aleksi Milonoff, directed by Mika Myllyaho. After working his whole life believing that his contribution will one day amount to something, Willy Loman is astonished to find himself on the scrap heap. “A man is not a piece of fruit,” he says. “You can’t eat the orange and throw away the peel.” Miller’s play is an iconic study of a man whose faith in the American Dream is betrayed by market forces. Betrayal and disappointment are also at the centre of Anton Chekhov’s Seagull, opening on the Small Stage in September. Written in 1895, the Seagull is the first of Chekhov’s four major dramas. It is set in a fading country idyll inhabited by artists – playwrights, novelists, actresses – who cannot always identify the divide between art and life. Directed by Anne Rautiainen, this interpretation is a beautiful sequence of tableaux depicting the absurdity of a world in which love, youth and artistic perfection all seem equally elusive.
International works in the repertoire this season include two French plays, both of which describe the anatomy of a break-up. Pascal Rambert’s Love’s Conclusion, directed by the author and opening on the Small Stage in November is a contemporary two-hander on the rawness of a difficult rupture, while Jean Cocteau’s The Human Voice, directed by Charles Gonzalèz and opening in the Omapohja studio in October, is a modern classic monologue on the pain and despair of romantic loss.
Many new Finnish works will also have their première this season. Elli Salo’s debut play Alina opens in the Omapohja Stage in August, directed by Riikka Oksanen. It traces the relationship between Alina and her brother Emil, whose mental issues make him dependent on her. Inspired by Arvo Pärt’s music, the play has a minimalist form imbued with a lightness and clarity that belie the weighty content. Melli Maikkula’s Clown, directed by Kaisa-Liisa Logrén, is a poignant but often hilarious comedy about modern relationships and family secrets, opening in September. Later, opening in November, Minna Nurmelin’s Map, directed by the author, is a comic study of contemporary mores, in which six characters strive for individuality and yearn for community as they navigate the landscape of modern life. Both works are playing on the Willensauna Stage. On the Small Stage Michael Baran’s adaptation of Kjell Westö’s latest novel Sulphur Sky opens in December, directed by Juhana von Bagh. Westö’s novel portrays three generations as they encounter a rapidly changing world, from the 1960’s to the present day. Memory and the passage of time create a constantly shifting perspective on truth, love, friendship and responsibility.
The Finnish National Theatre’s new unit for young audiences, Kantti, is producing its first play. Conceived as an immersive theatre piece and based on interviews with young people, Fragments is written by Camilla Rantanen and directed by Satu Linnapuomi. The show, which premières in November, is the first to open in a new space, the Train Factory in Vallila district. The FNT will be taking the space into use during its period of renovation.
For the very young, Ella Pyhältö and Helena Vierikko are creating a Christmas show based on the Finnish classic Hölmölä series. Performances of Hölmölä at Christmas are held in the mornings in the lobby area of the Main Stage, opening in October.
A number of productions will carry over from the previous season. These include, on the Main Stage, Esa Leskinen and Sami Keski-Vähälä’s Eleventh Hour, directed by Leskinen, a satirical study of power, money and democracy. Combining documentary material, economic analysis, music and visual theatre, this cabaret-style show paints a picture of our times and examines our prospects for the future. Paavo Westerberg’s highly successful and critically acclaimed production of Chekhov’s Three Sisters also continues its run on the Main Stage. On the Willensauna Stage, human frailty and vanity is comically depicted in Mika Waltari’s modern classic Gabriel!. Two elderly sisters fall prey to the handsome Gabriel’s charms, only to discover he is not what he seems. But despite all his cunning, Gabriel meets his match in the women’s niece, Raili, who has her own agenda. This nostalgic, yet ever poignant, comedy of mores is directed by Vesa Vierikko. Pajtim Statovci’s highly successful debut novel, My Cat Yugoslavia, also continues on the Willensauna Stage. Adapted by Eva Buchwald and directed by Johanna Freundlich, Statovci’s novel is a searing portrait of individuals caught between two countries, struggling to discover who they are and where they belong. The story traces a journey from Kosovo to Finland and back again, involving strange encounters with beguiling cats and mysterious snakes. British author Duncan MacMillan’s play Every Brilliant Thing continues in the Willensauna repertoire. A gently humorous monologue about depression and the shadow of suicide, it is performed by two actors who alternate in the role. Mari Lehtonen and Ilja Peltonen also direct each other.
Michael Baran’s interpretation of Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage moves from the Omapohja Stage to the Small Stage for a limited run. The play traces a couple’s relationship over ten years, as it evolves through love, betrayal and divorce. This modern classic is a timeless study of the cruel and tender nature of marital bonds. A new play for school-age children which opened last spring also continues on the Small Stage. Mauri Kunnas’ best-selling book A Doghill’s History of Finland has been adapted by Eva Buchwald and directed by Irene Aho. The show presents 300 years of Finnish history during the period of Swedish rule. From the reign of Kustaa Vaasa in the mid-sixteenth century until 1809 when Finland was annexed to Russia, the play portrays a wealth of royal and other historical figures, as well as scenes from the lives of ordinary folk.
Several guest performances pepper the programme. The Ruska Ensemble will return with their production The Road to Konyan, based on performer Jari Virman’s experiences wandering through the valleys and mountains of Turkey, on a personal quest into the unknown. The show was conceived and scripted by Ari-Pekka Lahti and Tiina Luoma, and directed by Tiina Luoma and Panu Varstala. Q-teatteri’s highly acclaimed production of Saara Turunen’s Medusa’s Room has also been invited to play three performances in January. Musical performances this season include a concert by the band Mokoma, featuring special guest artist Netta Skog. Timo Tuominen, a long-standing member of the FNT’s own company, gives his interpretation of Jacques Brel’s songs for a single night on the Main Stage, entitled Brel Final Spécial. An encounter with journalists from the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, entitled Black Box, continues by popular demand. The project brings journalism to the Main Stage for an evening in which journalists present previously unpublished material and reveal the stories that have touched them the most.
As usual, the Theatre’s Touring Stage continues to provide a number of shows for touring to community care homes and prisons. The most recent addition to the repertoire is an adaptation of Hella Wuolijoki’s modern classic Heta of Niskavuori, which was originally produced by Teatteri Jurkka. Audience outreach work pursues its long-term project involving residents of a given Helsinki suburb. This year, a fresh three-year period began, this time engaging with the area of Kaarela. The project’s multidisciplinary workshops and performances are run by Anni Pellikka and Mirjami Heikkinen. The Outreach programme also organizes a number of discussions, events and workshops relate to the theatre’s main programme.
As always, a huge variety of performances, music events, readings and discussions also fills the FNT Club venue. The venue’s varied programme can be accessed at www.lavaklubi.fi.
HISTORICAL ROOTS OF THE FNT
The Finnish National Theatre, founded in 1872, is the oldest Finnish-language professional theatre in the country. The birth of the Finnish National Theatre was closely linked to the political ideology of the late nineteenth century. Finland was part of the Russian Empire, and the country’s intellectual elite was Swedish speaking. Finnish language and art, including theatre, became the cornerstones of a cultural movement which began in the 1860’s, gradually developed political ambitions by the turn of the century, and eventually led to national independence in 1917.
For the first thirty years of its existence, the theatre functioned primarily as a touring company. The theatre did not acquire a permanent home until 1902, when a purpose-built theatre was erected in the heart of Helsinki, adjacent to the city’s main railway station. The building design was by architect Onni Törnqvist-Tarjanne. This majestic neo-romantic edifice with its façade of Finnish granite and interiors of soapstone, marble and wood, is one of Finland’s most impressive national monuments. The theatre still operates in these premises today, and over the years the building has expanded from its original size to encompass another three permanent stages. In addition to the Main Stage (Suuri näyttämö), the theatre comprises the Small Stage (Pieni näyttämö) built in 1954, the Willensauna Stage built in 1976, and the Omapohja Studio built in 1987.
In 2010 the FNT’s governing board appointed the current director Mika Myllyaho, who has expanded the theatre’s activities. He has adopted a policy of associate writers to whom the theatre is committed on a long term basis. The theatre has also become a venue welcoming a variety of joint productions and guest performances.
A new production unit was established in 2010, under the name of Touring Stage. This unit, which has no fixed stage, aims to take small-scale touring performances to locations throughout the country which have little or no access to theatre, such as homes for the elderly, hospitals, welfare reception centres, prisons and so on. The Touring Stage’s programme focuses on socially engaged theatre, developed through community research and interaction. The unit’s goal is to reach out and give voice to marginalized sectors of society.
Over recent years, the theatre has also expanded its outreach activities in the realm of theatre in education and community work. Theatre Educator Pirjo Virtanen has initiated and developed many projects and themed events appealing to different sectors of the FNT’s audience base. The programme includes discussion groups, drama courses, literary study, backstage tours and more. The unit also provides educational background material related to the theatre’s productions for the benefit of teachers.
In January 2011 the theatre’s former restaurant reopened as the FNT Club, transformed into a late-evening entertainment spot. The space was given a new look, refurbished in a piano-bar stroke artist’s living-room style, and it offers a varied programme of music, drama and poetry performances, discussion evenings and artist soirées, put together by producer Hanna Reetta Majanen.
Throughout its history the Finnish National Theatre has also maintained international links in various forms of partnership with foreign theatres and festivals. This continues today as the theatre co-operates with, among others, the Helsinki Festival to bring over cutting-edge examples of world drama. The theatre also participates in text-based cultural exchanges and workshops, and regularly invites guest directors or other artists from abroad, to bring new perspectives to Finnish theatre. This year the FNT welcomes two French directors to work on productions which will open in the autumn. Pascal Rambert will direct his passionate two-hander La Clôture de l’amour on the Small Stage and Charles Gonzales will direct Jean Cocteau’s modern classic monologue La voix humaine. Both plays examine the nature of love and the pain of loss.