“Last spring was in many ways a devastating period in history. The Covid-19 pandemic changed everything very rapidly. National borders went into lockdown, and many services we take for granted, such as restaurants, libraries and theatres were forced to close their doors. I believe theatre will survive this crisis and retain its power, because art is full of purpose. Stories will still have an important place in our lives – perhaps more important than ever – in a post-corona world. As the autumn approaches, we live in a state of apprehension. My fervent hope, in these difficult times, is that we all look out for one another. The need for mutual care and understanding is one of the central themes of this season’s new works.”
Mika Myllyaho, August 2020
The FNT’s performances begin in August 2020. We are following government guidelines for the performing arts in order to ensure the health and safety of both our staff and our customers. We want the FNT to be a safe place for everyone and will continue to update our practices in line with recommendations as they are issued by the authorities.
The season begins with Samuel Adamson’s stage adaptation of Pedro Almodóvar’s modern classic film All About My Mother. Translated by Reita Lounatvuori, Adamson’s play is directed by Anne Rautiainen and opens in September on the Main Stage. Spanish film-maker Almodóvar’s work is a poignant tribute to motherhood which, despite its offbeat characters ranging from transgender hookers and pregnant nuns to feuding lesbians, is all about family values and the importance of caring. Not without self-parody, this comedy drama also examines the nature of acting and performance, in both life and art.
In co-production with the TTT-theatre of Tampere, a new play written and directed by resident FNT dramaturg Michael Baran opens on the Main Stage in October. Hitler and Blondi is a two-hander accompanied by a pianist, which traces Hitler’s rise and fall through the reflections and reminiscences of both Hitler and his faithful, all-seeing German Shepherd, Blondi. The play shows the man for what he was, portrayed in all his complexity by one of Finland’s most beloved actresses, Seela Sella, who, just for the record, is Jewish.
Another new Finnish play also premieres on the Main Stage in November. Written and directed by Juha Jokela, Docents is a keen study of the power-play at work in a university environment. In this sharp psychological drama, Jokela scrutinizes the state of present-day academia and its capacity to pursue scientific independence in a climate of political tension and economic downturn.
As announced last season, the 1950’s wing of the theatre building will be undergoing a long overdue, major renovation for the next few years. The Small Stage and Willensauna Stage are therefore closed for the time being, and the FNT has taken on temporary new premises in the Vallila district of Helsinki. Two new productions will open on the FNT Vallila Stage this autumn: a new Finnish play and an international classic. Written and directed by Kirsi Porkka and Marina Meinander, Indignation opens in September. Focusing on two middle-aged sisters who find themselves at a turning point in their lives, the play revolves around themes of family, work and loneliness. Above all, it explores the impact of a culture of hostility: the private devastation and paralyzing loss of self when one becomes the target of others’ malevolent ill-will.
Family dynamics also play a role in November’s Vallila première. Molière’s Miser, translated by Arto af Hällström and directed by Vesa Vierikko, is a classic study of not only of avarice but also the generation gap. The eponymous Miser struggles to hang on to every penny of his fortune as he plots both his own and his children’s marriages. The younger generation, driven by love, must counter-scheme to fulfil their own romantic goals. The author is definitely on their side. In Vierikko’s interpretation the play is a glorious concoction of outrageous make-up, wigs and costumes, highlighting the ridiculous.
The Omapohja stage will host two new productions this season. The first is Life Force, written and directed by Asta Honkamaa and Sini Pesonen, which opens in September. The piece explores the nature of pleasure and how it affects our five senses, helping us to keep going through moments of suffering. This is followed in November by the show Anne F. Postponed last spring due to the pandemic, Anne F is a new adaptation of the Diary of Anne Frank created by the FNT’s Youth theatre group Kantti. This is Kantti’s first production. Anne Frank’s classic account of her life in hiding during the Second World War is brought to the stage by a 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 Mirjam Pressler. Linnapuomi also directs.
Several other performances and co-productions which were postponed last spring will now have their long-awaited opening. First up is Sanna Kekälainen’s choreography for Kekälainen & Company, If I Would Lose my Voice, which can be seen on the Main Stage in August. The Delta Venus company, known for its experimental cabaret-style performances, joins forces with the FNT to present The Betty Show, opening in October. Jussi Moila’s study of fatherhood, entitled Fatherland and co-produced with Teatteri Nirvana, opens in December. These two co-productions will play at the FNT Vallila Stage.
Many popular shows carry over from the previous season. Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman 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.
Michael Baran’s adaptation of Kjell Westö’s latest novel Sulphur Sky, directed by Juhana von Bagh, transfers to the Main Stage to continue its successful run. 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 transferring to the Main 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 Gustav Vasa 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.
Also for children, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s famous tale on the importance of friendship, The Secret Garden, continues in repertoire. Adapted for puppets by Juha Laukkanen, this visual and musical adaptation of Burnett’s classic novel is recommended for children aged two and above. Performances are held in the lobby of the Main Stage. Another children’s show returning for the Christmas season is Ella Pyhältö and Helena Vierikko’s 2019 piece based on the Finnish classic Hölmölä series, entitled Hölmölä at Christmas.
Other highlights of the season include several solo performances by leading stage artists. Two of Finland’s leading actors, Jukka Puotila and Esko Salminen, appear in their respective and very distinctive one-man shows. The Jukka Puotila Show is a regularly updated satirical review written together with journalist Taina West, while Esko Salminen performs his favourite poems from the works of Federico García Lorca, Eino Leino, Dylan Thomas, William Shakespeare and others. The programme also includes two concerts: Timo Tuominen’s Brel Final Spécial and a solo concert entitled Alone by music legend Dave Lindholm. Tuominen, a long-standing member of the FNT’s own company, gives his interpretation of Jacques Brel’s songs on the Main Stage in December. Lindholm, who is known for his songs in both Finnish and English, plays the Main Stage in November.
An evening of journalism has also become 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 November and December.
As usual, the Theatre’s Touring Stage continues to provide a number of shows for touring to community care homes and prisons. During last summer, the Touring Stage created new ways of reaching their public safely during the pandemic. It took its performances outdoors, into the yard areas of care homes, maintaining physical distance. It also produced a series of ten-minute audio plays in collaboration with the Finnish Broadcasting Corporation, which focused on people who were self-isolating. This year the Touring Stage celebrates its tenth anniversary.
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.
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 / 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. Unfortunately, for the period of the renovation, the FNT Club venue is closed.
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.
Today, the Finnish National Theatre is on the threshold of a new era. Over the next few 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 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,” Director Mika Myllyaho comments on this latest development.