PERFORMANCES ARE CURRENTLY CANCELLED UNTIL THE END OF FEBRUARY
“Despite the challenges created by both the Covid-19 pandemic and the theatre’s major renovation initiatives, the theatre has continued to work hard behind closed doors. When we are once again able to open our doors to the public, we can promise a fascinating range of fresh new productions: well-rehearsed shows whose premieres were postponed last autumn, as well as new shows scheduled for this spring. For as long as necessary, we will continue to maintain the high levels of safety measures which were so much appreciated by our audiences last autumn. We also hope that normality will return soon, so we can focus on our main purpose: live performances, on stage, in front of a full audience.”
Mika Myllyaho, January 2020
Although the theatre is temporarily closed, our high quality recording of last autumn’s new premiere Hitler and Blondi is currently available to the public through an online purchase service. Written and directed by resident FNT dramaturg Michael Baran, 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, in all his complexity, portrayed by one of Finland’s most beloved actresses, Seela Sella, who, just for the record, is Jewish. The show is a co-production with the TTT theatre of Tampere.
Also available to the public are various conversations, podcasts and sound recordings which can be accessed for free on the theatre’s Sound channel. These include drama and poetry readings.
While many of last season’s shows were forced to close before the end of their run, many will also carry on in repertoire. These include 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. 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.
Due to open on the Main Stage last November, a new play written and directed by Juha Jokela will see its premiere this spring. 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 premises in the Vallila district of Helsinki. The first new show to open on the FNT Vallila Stage last autumn was Indignation, written and directed by Kirsi Porkka and Marina Meinander. 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, the paralyzing loss of self when one becomes the target of others’ malevolent behaviour. This show will continue in repertoire and will be joined by an international classic postponed from last season. Molière’s Miser, translated by Arto af Hällström and directed by Vesa Vierikko, is a classic study 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.
Opening in the Omapohja Studio when circumstances allow, is a new adaptation of the Diary of Anne Frank created by the FNT’s Youth theatre group Kantti. Entitled Anne F, 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.
Also in the Omapohja Studio, two French plays from last season will be revived by popular demand: Pascal Rambert’s Love’s Conclusion, directed by the author, is a contemporary two-hander on the rawness of a difficult rupture, while Jean Cocteau’s The Human Voice, directed by Charles Gonzalez is a modern classic monologue on the pain and despair of loss and loneliness.
Michael Baran’s adaptation of Kjell Westö’s latest novel Sulphur Sky, directed by Juhana von Bagh, transferred to the Main Stage last autumn to continue its successful run and can still be seen in February. 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.
New shows opening in spring offer an intriguing mix of artists and genres. On the Main Stage Hours, Weeks and Months is a two-hander framed in music and song, based on Reko and Tina Lundán’s books chronicling their experience of Reko Lundán’s last months, living with the knowledge he would soon succumb to brain cancer. The script is by Kati Kaartinen, music is by Jussi Tuurna and the piece is directed by Tuomas Rinta-Panttila.
Also opening on the Main Stage, the Ruska Ensemble returns with the third and last part of their Arctic Trilogy, which was commissioned by the FNT. Donna Quixote – A Struggle for Hope is a multi-disciplined stage work by an international ensemble, which seeks to explore hope and the need to fight for it in the face of Arctic nature’s decline. The piece is written and directed by Jarkko Lahti and Ari-Pekka Lahti. The multilingual performance is surtitled in English.
Later in the season, on the FNT Vallila Stage, a new play written and directed by Kari Heiskanen, A Handbook for Human Encounters, examines the nature of love and communication. In the Omapohja studio, Vesa Vierikko directs Harold Pinter’s classic two-hander The Dumb Waiter, in which two men, waiting to hear about their next job, find themselves in a cellar where matters become increasingly absurd.
As usual, the Theatre’s Touring Stage, run by Artistic Director Jussi Lehtonen, continues to provide a number of shows for touring to community care homes and prisons. During last summer, the Touring Stage found 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. This year the Touring Stage celebrates its tenth anniversary, for which it has commissioned a new show written and directed by Juha Mustanoja. Entitled Diplomats, the show will open in the Kanneltalo in Kannelmäki. The show can also be booked for performances in care homes and other public facilities. Diplomats is a lively comedy, full of song and dance, about human perfection, or at least about those who believe they can find perfection in themselves.
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 March and April.
Audience outreach work, co-ordinated by Pirjo Virtanen, 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 includes multidisciplinary workshops and performances, as well as podcasts. 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 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. 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.