In line with the latest guidelines on the Corona virus, The Finnish National Theatre is now fully closed to the public. The box office is however serving the public by telephone and email (telephone: weekdays 9–18 p. 010 7331 331, mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).
It is with great regret that we have cancelled all performances for the spring season but the health and safety of audience and staff are of paramount importance.
Information on our autumn season and performance dates will be available on our website in due course.
“The Finnish National Theatre is on the threshold of a new era. Over the next three years the theatre will face numerous changes as the modern section of the building, dating from 1954, undergoes major renovation. While the Main Stage and the Omapohja Studio will continue to function normally, both the Small Stage and the Willensauna will be temporarily closed. For the period of the renovation, the Finnish National Theatre will also operate in a new space, the Train Factory, located in Helsinki’s Vallila district. It is exciting for the FNT to find a new home in this growing and vibrant sector of the city.”
Mika Myllyaho, January 2020
The Finnish National Theatre explores themes of isolation and identity this spring. The season starts in January with the premiere of Undocumented Love, a devised piece by Kati Kaartinen and Jussi Lehtonen created together with the show’s multi-disciplined artistic team. Based on documentary material collected from interviews with refugees, the piece tells five true stories from around the world. Performers from Finland, Syria and Iraq use theatre, dance and modern circus to describe the lives of people in limbo, struggling for their right to exist. The performance is largely in English.
Paula Salminen’s new play Airlift, is also concerned with contemporary humanitarian issues, but from a different perspective. In Salminen’s play, three characters try to find ways of contributing to the international aid effort, but helping those in distress proves more complicated than they expected, and relief work seems ridden with contradictions. Airlift opens in the Willensauna Stage in February.
Depicting a different form of loneliness, Paavo Westerberg’s new play for the Main Stage makes reference to the biblical myth of Jonah and the whale. Entitled Blue Whale, the play is set on an island where a family has gathered to celebrate one member’s birthday. Far from finding bonds that unite them, they all seem individually stranded somewhere between fear, anticipation and hope. The play opens in March.
The FNT’s youth theatre unit Kantti presents a new adaptation of the Diary of Anne Frank in the Omapohja Stage in May. This production is the first to be created by Kantti’s own youth theatre group. Anne Frank’s classic account of her life in hiding during the Second World War is brought to the stage by the twenty-strong group of young actors between the ages fourteen and eighteen. The text is adapted by Satu Linnapuomi from the authorised edition by Otto H. Frank and Miriam Pressler. Linnapuomi also directs.
A new production for the very young opens in February. Frances Hodgson Burnett’s famous tale on the importance of friendship, The Secret Garden, has been adapted for puppets by Juha Laukkanen. This visual and musical adaptation of Burnett’s classic children’s novel is recommended for children aged two and above. Performances are held in the lobby of the Main Stage. The FNT also organises a number of events for children throughout the season, including workshops, readings and backstage tours themed for the young.
Many successful shows carry over from the previous season. Sapiens, based on Yuval Noah Harari’s bestseller Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, continues on the Main Stage. 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). 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. English language captioning by mobile app has been provided for this performance. Finnish language captioning for the hard of hearing is also available.
Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman also continues on the Main Stage. Mika Myllyaho directs Miller’s classic in a new translation by Aleksi Milonoff. After working hard his whole life in the belief that one day his contribution will 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, continuing on the Small Stage. 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. Also on the Small Stage, Michael Baran’s adaptation of Kjell Westö’s latest novel Sulphur Sky, directed by Juhana von Bagh, continues to play to full houses. Westö’s novel portrays three generations as they encounter a rapidly changing world, from the 1960’s to the present day. Juhana von Bagh’s staging is a unique combination of words, movement and imagery, expressing how memory and the passage of time create a constantly shifting perspective on truth, love, friendship and responsibility.
Last year’s hugely popular show for school-age children is also still playing 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 piece 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.
Three productions on the Willensauna Stage extend their popular runs. Mika Waltari’s modern classic Gabriel is a comic study of human frailty and vanity. 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, is 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 is 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.
International works in the repertoire to carry over into this season include two French plays from last autumn, both of which describe the anatomy of a break-up. Pascal Rambert’s Love’s Conclusion, on the Small Stage, is a contemporary two-hander on the rawness of a difficult rupture. Jean Cocteau’s The Human Voice, directed by Charles Gonzalez in the Omapohja Studio, is a modern classic monologue on the pain and despair of romantic loss.
Several guest performances and co-productions join the repertoire. Teatteri Jurkka’s acclaimed production Nora, adapted from Henrik Ibsen’s The Doll’s House by Marie Kajava and Alma Lehmuskallio, can be seen in April and May on the Willensauna Stage. Dance is represented by Sanna Kekälainen’s choreography for Kekälainen & Company, If I Would Lose my Voice, and physical theatre by Bells and Spells, created by French artists Aurélie Thierrée and Victoria Thierrée Chaplin’s. Both performances can be seen on the Main Stage in May.
Jussi Moila’s study of fatherhood, entitled Fatherland and co-produced with Teatteri Nirvana, opens on the Small Stage. The Delta Venus company, known for its experimental cabaret-style performances, joins forces with the FNT to present The Betty Show on the Willensauna Stage. Both co-productions open in April.
Other highlights of the season include concerts such as Timo Tuominen’s Brel Final Spécial and The Dead Don’t Dream by the Verneri Pohjola Quartet. Tuominen, a long-standing member of the FNT’s own company, gives his interpretation of Jacques Brel’s songs on the Main Stage in February. Verneri Pohjola brings his special brand of modern jazz to the Main Stage in May.
An evening of journalism has also become also a regular feature of the Main Stage in recent years. Black Box is an encounter with reporters from the national newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, who present previously unpublished material and reveal the stories that have touched them the most. There are several Black Box evenings scheduled in March and April.
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 Klockriketeatern’s production of Benny Haag’s monologue One in Four, directed by Ann-Luise Bertell. Audience outreach work pursues its long-term project involving residents of a given Helsinki suburb. Last 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, Mirjami Heikkinen and Martta Pesonen. The Outreach programme also organises a number of discussions, events and workshops related 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.