Monday, April 16, 2012

Theatre of Shame (and Joy)

I should be ashamed. I've lived in Ireland for over six years and the times I've been to theatre here can be counted with the fingers of one hand. Considering that in some phases of life I went to see just about everything available, I should be tied to a chair in a theatre.
I grew up in Martinlaakso in Vantaa, Finland, often known as the childhood suburb of famous formula one drivers Mika Häkkinen and Mika Salo. Helsinki city centre was only a twenty-minute train ride away.
The suburb I grew up in was one of those fast-built complexes reflecting the fast urbanization of the 1960's and 70's. It wasn't exactly the worst place to live in, but not the best one either. The earlier childhood still had its memorable moments.
In the end of 70's life was not about what we had. It had content. Some kind of feeling of togetherness. Therefore it wasn't a surprise that my very dispersed home city put some money into providing free or near free cultural events.
At one point they started handing out free theatre tickets for children. The stage was in the school auditorium. The school I would once enter when I'd be thirteen, and would walk out of with my white graduation cap on when I'd be nineteen.
To get those free theatre tickets, people had to queue outside the local swimming hall early in the week. If I remember right, it was on Monday evenings. My mother was there every Monday. And I mean EVERY Monday. I really should be thankful for her now that I realize how valuable those Saturday plays were for me. Me and my friends must have seen a big bunch of plays for children. One I remember well was When the Robbers Came to Cardamom Town.
Even though my parents were cultured and always cheering me and my sister up to read good books and replace nonsense TV series by watching critically acclaimed films, seeing the great plays on stage was something magical for a kid growing up in a concrete suburb. It was such a good experience that I must have told my friends about it. Soon some of the slightly rougher boys ended up going to the theatre with me. With the tickets collected by my mother.
The second theatre phase I entered, was when I was working as a journalist in my twenties in Turku region in Southwestern Finland. I used to get free tickets so we'd write reviews of the plays. At one point, I must have seen just about all the plays in the nearby areas.
There are some very good professional theatres in Turku. The official ones that have their monthly paid staff, having also their summer theatres in beautiful surroundings of this former capital city by the Aura river.
I was quite young then. Maybe therefore I found the smaller, younger, professional, semi-professional or amateur theatres more tempting. Their plays were often more out of mainstream. The people working on stage and behind the scenes were hungry. Really willing to put themselves fully into making great, meaningful and innovative, fully entertaining theatre. In addition, they really seemed to have all the fun doing this.
During those years, among all other plays, I got to see Patrick Marber's Closer on stage at TeatteriSusi five years before it was made into the big screen with Jude LawJulia Roberts and one of my favourite actresses, Natalie Portman. I saw Death and the Maiden (written by Ariel Dorfman) first time on stage in Uusikaupunki, directed by an old (young) college mate and friend of mine Toni Enholm. I still remember the gruesome, but natural faces Toni had managed to get out of his main actors and the actress on stage. Haunting in a positive way. I saw a new version of Dracula with an amazingly haunting music composed in Turku, just for this play.
I saw Shallow Grave, also known as a movie as well as Death and the Maiden, adapted to stage. It was adapted by a team named Jorma-ryhmä (Jorma Group). Always innovative, not using the fanciest stages, but often old warehouses or factories as their premises.
I can still remember the play going on. Them using strobe lights and slow motion of actors to picture an unreal dream-like event. Simple, but well-working trick. I remember the characters talking about packing the body into a car trunk. Then opening the side door of the stage, pulling the "body" into a real car trunk and driving away. With a real car.
Somehow it brought the whole fictitious story to reality. To the point where theatre can be larger than life even with just small innovations connected to real life.
But also giving life to people who would manage to find the meaning of content of what theatre can give at its best. Imagination. Escapism. Even changing slightly the life of a frustrated boy growing up in the grey concrete suburb.

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