Actor and director Jussi Lehtonen wrote an article about National Theatre of Urugay’s Henrik Ibsen production. The premiere of the play El enemigo del pueblo was at Comedia Nacional in Montevideo in October 2019.
This article was originally published in Finnish at Voima no. 7/2019. Its has been translated by English language students from the University of Helsinki under the supervision of John Calton, Lecturer in the Department of Languages.
The director Marianela Morena, who is well known for her radical interpretations of classic plays, was approached by Comedia Nacional, Uruguay’s national theatre, to adapt Henrik Ibsen’s play En Folkefiende (An Enemy of the People). She didn’t have long to wait for a vision to come to her as the Finnish forest industry company UPM-kymmene entered the scene. The company’s plans to build a massive new pulp mill, and the heated discussion surrounding it, provide new content for the classic play, set in a small Norwegian town in the late 19th century, in which the water of a bath-house becomes contaminated.
”Ibsen’s play is at my disposal,” says Morena. ”I can fracture its intact characters and their views. I am writing new text within the lines. The topic is pollution. The different truths of the characters pollute one another. Fiction and reality get mixed up.” There are people both for and against UPM’s new mill in Uruguay. ”The investment has such a huge impact on the economy, infrastructure, environment and livelihood of the country that it is hard to take a clear stand on the matter,” states Morena.
In Uruguay, the traditional source of livelihood is cattle rearing. The land is made up of vast, treeless plains called pampas. Now it is being taken over by plantation after plantation of cloned eucalyptus trees – a plant that reaches full height in seven years. Morena describes the change in the landscape: ”Many people feel cornered when their view is being blocked. Smallholders will have to give up their farms. Unlike you Finns, we Uruguayans don’t consider the forest a natural, beautiful or even safe environment. Many people find it oppressive. ”
There are various environmental consequences. The cultivation of eucalyptus trees leaves its mark in the soil and the water systems, as the waste water flows into the already heavily-polluted river Rio de la Plata. Each link in the production chain has its own imprint. For Uruguayans it is particularly distressing to see what a huge influence UPM can have on a small country: ”The state is building a new railway and a port for the factory. People feel that the government is being humiliated by big business.”
“Even though Latin America is free, we are colonized in every way, including the language,” Morena explains. According to her, the European model of thinking influences people through the Spanish language. Latin America needs approval for everything from Europe. ”We are the perfect catch for a colonizer: the empty space they need is already inside us. Now a big Finnish company will get a firm grip on our country’s rich natural resources. It’s a grotesque capitalist takeover. Well, as for me, I will (de)colonize Ibsen’s play by making it my own.”