Sunday, October 22, 2017

Jekyll & Hyde in Salon Teatteri

Please note: I saw Salon Teatteri's production on Jekyll & Hyde for free in exchange of writing an article about the musical's history for the production's souvenir programme. If you visit Salo this fall, go to the theatre and buy ten of those.

We're so lucky here in Finland!

During the last four years, we've had not one, not two, but now three fine productions of the musical Jekyll & Hyde, all within a 300 km radius. Sure, I doubt that most people see this as an especially exciting series of events – but for me, a borderline obsessive Jekyll & Hyde fan, it's a huge thrill.

So let's see what Salon Teatteri's autumn 2017 production has to offer.

Hyde, feeling alive

Salon Teatteri is an amateur theatre (did you know that the word amateur is originally French and means lover of? What a perfect word!) with a tiny performance space, so it's quite a feat they've staged a musical as big as this one. But no need to worry: it's an impressive show all the way through.

I was surprised to find out the small space actually works in the favour of the production. You can't help feeling tense when there's a murder taking place a couple of meters in front of you.

Pauliina Salonius's direction emphasises the dark and violent parts of the story. Hyde's mistreatment of Lucy and the murder at the end of the first act felt so close and personal I got a little knot in my stomach. I saw the show with lots of friends and I know some of them found the violence a bit too graphic. I see where they're coming from, the song Alive especially has some pretty gruesome moments. Personally, though, I think the mood is mostly intense in a good way.

The set design (by Riku Suvitie) features lots of mirrors and a laboratory that's situated on a sort of a loft. Throw that together with some stark lighting (by Timo A. Aalto) and lots of smoke and you get a deliciously creepy atmosphere. I also rather like the costumes (by Taija Jokilehto). It's nice how Emma gets to wear a sensible, black dress instead of the dainty feminine things so many productions give her. She looks almost uncomfortable in her fancy engagement party dress, and I think that makes sense – it is after all implied that neither Jekyll or Emma feel at home in the high society.

Another nice thing for me is that there are two Finnish translations of this musical, and in Salo, they're using the one that was also used in the first production of J&H I ever saw (by Tuomas Parkkinen, Jussi Vahvaselkä and Kristina Vahvaselkä). It's feels good, somehow, to hear those same lyrics and words again. I'm not claiming it's the best possible translation of the musical, but it's comfortably familiar.

Emma in the laboratory

In Salo, the musical's titular characters are played by Peter Nyberg. His Jekyll is short-tempered but seems genuinely excited about his experiment. His Hyde, then, is super sadistic, and Jekyll pretty much throws in the towel as soon as Hyde is let loose. It becomes clear early that he's fighting a losing battle, whatever optimism he had in the first act is replaced with desperation. All in all, you can tell Nyberg has a good time playing the roles, and he sings the part just right.

I like how this production makes Jekyll rather young (Nyberg is born in 1993). Jekyll/Hyde is often played by men approaching middle age, and in the original novel, Jekyll is in his 50s. But, as we discussed with a friend afterwards, I think it makes more sense to make him younger in the musical. A middle-aged guy should have enough life experience to know better than to test the formula on himself. But if it's someone young and rash who probably got his doctorate two weeks ago... The whole affair suddely feels a bit more believable.

There are two alternating Lucys and Emmas in this production. I saw Rosita Ahlfors as Lucy and Laura Flemming as Emma. Ahlfors's Lucy feels very earnest and rather naïve. Therefore, she is an easy target for Hyde to channel all his destructive energy against, hurting her just as he wants. Maybe it's no wonder, since Flemming's Emma is level-headed with a calm precence. She seems like a person who will shut you up in a fight, but do it in such a gentle manner that you won't even get the satisfaction of getting a rise out of her. There is no way Jekyll – or Hyde, for that matter – could boss her around.

However, as I've mentioned before, my favourite character in this story is Jekyll's lawyer and best friend Utterson. Teemu Veikkolainen doesn't disappoint. From his first line, I knew I was going to enjoy the performance. He's pointedly calm and proper, in contrast to Jekyll's temper. He seems like someone you would trust in a tight spot, and with your legal documents, but there's also a dash of humour and a pinch of forbidden desires thrown in the mix. I like him!

The whole ensemble works well together. Aki-Matti Kallio's Simon Stride stuck out to me especially, he is a fun highlight. The production cuts some of the character's already meagre material, but Kallio's pompous Stride steals the show nevertheless.

Utterson and Hyde

All in all, I enjoyed this production a lot. It's not perfect (for example, the music – the orchestration is based on pre-recorded tracks that, in my opinion, are often way too slow. I simply prefer orchestrations with a faster tempo). But, as a whole, it's an entertaining, creepy-in-a-good-way show. I'm going back at least once.

Finland! Indeed, what a fantastic place for a Jekyll & Hyde fan to live.

Photos by Mika Nurmi / Studio X.
P.S. I just heard of a Chinese production of Jekyll & Hyde where they did a performance with female J/H and male Lucy and Emma. When will Europe be ready for Dr Jekyll and Ms Hyde?

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Cats and The Last Ship in Finland

Today, short reviews of two new Finnish non-replica musical productions.

Cats, Tampereen Teatteri

 

Photo by Harri Hinkka.

This autumn, Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats is back in Finland. It's been almost ten years since our last full-blown production of the musical, so I guess it's about time.

I was in the wrong mindset when I saw this musical. I had seen the mind-alteringly good opening night of the new Swedish production of Les Misérables a week before, and watching Cats, my mind kept wandering back to Jean Valjean, Fantine and Javert. Had I known Les Mis was coming up when I bought the Cats ticket, I would definitively chosen another date. But what can you do – when I found out, this season's Cats performances were already practically sold out anyway.

But yeah, about the show itself...

I was a bit surprised to see how closely director Georg Malvius's version of the musical resembles the original Trevor Nunn direction. There's only one major change: the show is set in motion when a rat (played by Risto Korhonen) goes to bed and dreams of a world filled with felines. The rat doesn't speak, but he takes part in scenes, observes the Jellicles and tries to get accepted into their tribe.

Other than that, apart from a couple of fun little details – like Bustopher Jones frequenting a different sort of gentlemen's club, complete with pole dancing tomcats – the show looks, sounds and feels pretty traditional. The colours of the costumes (designed by Tuomas Lampinen) are reminiscent of John Napier's original designs, and even the orchestration resembles the original cast recordings from the 80s.

That's not to say the production isn't nice to watch, quite the contrary. My personal favourite scenes were Growltiger's Last Stand and Skimbleshanks, the Railway Cat, both performed by Tero Harjunniemi (a former Valjean, another Les Mis reminder). The former is especially fun because Harjunniemi gets to show off his operatic training by singing an Italian aria with Helena Rängman's Lady Griddlebone.

But despite all the good things, in the end, I liked this production – well, well enough.

The cast is talented, well-trained, and they clearly enjoy what they're doing, and the show looks beautiful. Still, the performance didn't make me feel much. Maybe it was simply the previous week's Les Mis overload distracting me, or maybe I've outgrown Cats for good (it was my very first favourite musical after all, I listened to it so much in 2008 I'm kind of permanently fed up with it nowadays). Maybe both.

Recommended, even if I didn't really feel the magic myself this time.

 

 

The Last Ship / Viimeinen laiva, Turun kaupunginteatteri


Photo by Otto-Ville Väätäinen.

The Last Ship, or Viimeinen laiva in Finnish, is a musical with music and lyrics by Sting. It premiered in Chicago in 2014. After a three-month-long Broadway run (the musical's producers lost their entire $15 million investment), the show has now arrived to Europe. It had its European premiere in Finland, in Turun kaupunginteatteri this September.

The musical (book by John Logan and Brian Yorkey) tells the story of a man, Gideon Fletcher, who runs away from his hometown in his teens, comes back 15 years later and finds out everything has changed. While he's been sailing the seven seas, Gideon's old girlfriend has found herself a new man and the shipyard that's been the source of the town's livelihood has gone bankrupt. To fight off desperation, the unemployed shipbuilders decide to return to the shipyard, build one last ship and sail away together, while Gideon tries to win back the love of his ex-sweetheart.

I really don't know what to make of this story. It's an uncomfortable mix of realism and fantasy. It's too firmly grounded in the real world to feel like a fairytale. For example, it's explicitly set in Wallsend, Sting's own home town in England. On the other hand, it's also way too fairytale-like to feel real. For example... well, that whole shipbuilding business, really. A bunch of dudes building a ship to sail away towards new adventures, seriously?

I'm certain the titular ship and its maiden voyage are meant to symbolise something, but I don't know what. Freedom, maybe – but how would the shipbuilders running away from their problems solve anything, since it didn't work out for Gideon in the beginning? And what does that say about the characters who are left behind? Maybe the set design (by Jani Uljas) gives us a key to this mystery when, near the end of the show, the ship is represented by a close-to-lifesize cutout of RMS Titanic's propellers.

The love story is dull. Boy abandons girl, girl pines after boy, boy comes back and assumes he still has a claim to girl even though they haven't spoken to each other in 15 years and she's now with someone else. The musical does not pass the Bechdel test. I know that's common in musical theatre (some of my personal favourites don't pass it either), but times are changing. An original musical written in 2014 should know better.

All that said, I feel there's a compelling story hidden in here somewhere. Change, desperation, perseverance, lost love... these could be the elements of an interesting story. But as it is, it's just The Full Monty rehashed, this time with ships and clichéd romance.

Turun kaupunginteatteri's production of The Last Ship is beautifully staged and performed. I paid special attention to the orchestra, conducted by Markus Länne the night I saw the show – they sound fantastic, and the sound system is set up perfectly. You can hear each and every sound from the orchestra pit clearly and beautifully. I wouldn't mind the theatre staging an instrumental musical concert! The music's quite nice, too, though not especially memorable. I'm not a Sting fan, but the tunes are pleasant to listen to.

Too bad that the plot is what it is. No matter how talented the cast and the orchestra, how impressive the sound system and how handsome the visuals, it's simply not a musical for me.

P.S. Both Cats and The Last Ship have surtitles in English.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Musikaalimatkassa!


Hei kaikki, minulla on ilmoitusluontoista asiaa: minusta on tullut podcast-juontaja!

Päätimme keväällä ystäväni Laura Haajasen kanssa, että aika on kypsä Suomen ensimmäiselle musikaalipodcastille. Monta pitkää kesäpäivää meni suunnitellessa ja äänitellessä, nyt on aika pamauttaa tulokset kaikkien kuultaviksi. Ensimmäinen täysimittainen jakso saa ensiesityksensä tänään.

Miksi podcast? Siksi, että bloggaaminen on kovin yksinäistä puuhaa. Joskus blogitekstit toki herättävät keskustelua Twitterissä tai kavereiden kesken reaalimaailmassa, mutta lähtökohtaisesti bloggari naputtelee tunteitaan sanoiksi yksin ja lukijat sitten lukevat tekstin kukin omassa yksinäisyydessään.

Podcastin asetelma on erilainen: jokaisessa jaksossa puhutaan musikaaleista vähintään kaksin, usein isommallakin porukalla vaihtuvien vieraiden ja haastateltavien kanssa. Vaihteeksi dialogia yksinlaulun sijaan! Nautin kirjoittamisesta ja jatkan totta kai tulevaisuudessa teatterista bloggaamista ihan kuin ennenkin, mutta on hauska päästä kokeilemaan myös toisenlaista kertomisen tapaa.

Musikaalimatkassa-podcastin nimi kertoo, mistä on kyse: otamme kuuntelijat mukaan musikaalimatkoillemme niin Suomessa kuin ulkomailla. Juttelemme jostakin illan esitykseen liittyvästä aiheesta, tapaamme ehkä teokseen perehtyneitä faneja tai taiteilijoita musikaalin takana, jaamme näytöksen herättämät ajatukset. Toisinaan istumme alas vieraan kanssa ja otamme käsittelyyn jonkin musikaalimaailman ilmiön.

Julkaisemme uuden jakson suunnilleen joka toinen tiistai. Syksyn aikana aiomme puhua esimerkiksi fanittamisesta ja fanitettavana olemisesta, moraalisesta mielipahasta ja tasa-arvosta. Kerromme lisää suunnitelmistamme podcastin esittelyjaksossa.

Podcastin kautta haluamme jakaa oman rakkautemme musikaaleihin, tarjota Suomen musikaalifaneille ja musiikkiteatterin maailmasta kiinnostuneille jotain uutta ja hauskaa ja samalla tuoda katsojia ja alan ammattilaisia lähemmäs toisiaan. Meillä kokijoilla ja tekijöillä on yhteinen intohimo, ja toivomme, että voimme podcastissa ja sen ympärillä puhua siitä yhdessä.

Julkaisimme juuri ekan jaksomme, jossa lähdemme musikaalimatkalle Ruotsiin Les Misérablesia katsomaan – ja otamme mennessämme selvää siitä, onko satatuntinen kurjuuden viemäreissä kieriskely oikeastaan edes hyvä musikaali. Toivottavasti saamme matkaseuraa monista teatterinystävistä niin tälle kuin tuleville reissuille!

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Monday, September 18, 2017

Les Misérables, Smålands Musik & Teater

It's good, getting your autumn started with some top-quality Les Mis!

A little over a week ago, me and two good friends of mine traveled to Jönköping, Sweden to see the opening night of Smålands Musik & Teater and Kulturhuset Spira's new production of Les Misérables. Apart from the leading actors, this production (directed by James Grieve) is essentially identical to Wermland Opera's 2016 production I saw twice last year. So if you want to read my general opinions, check out my first and second 2016 reviews. In them, I talk about the direction and the visuals, no need to repeat that here.

Instead, a couple of impressions about my favourite performances.


I already wrote about this a while ago: my number one reason to see this show, and the reason I convinced my friends to come with me, was that the leading role of Jean Valjean is played by Alexander Lycke. From 2010 to 2012, he played the same role in Åbo Svenska Teater here in Finland. I loved that production with all my heart, so of course I had to travel to see this one too.

This is just so special to me. The relationship in between me and Les Mis, if you can use that word to describe the bond in between a musical and a person, goes deeper than me just being a fan of the show. After seeing it live 30+ times, it still hits me harder than any other musical. The ÅST production is especially important to me since it marks something of a turning point in my life. So you can imagine how exciting it was seeing Lycke in the role again!

Even so, it's nice that instead of a walk down the memory lane, this is a different take with all sorts of different details. I think Lycke's portrayal of Valjean has grown lots and lots – he was certainly good the last time, no doubt about that, but the character feels even more 3D and well-rounded now. I guess I have grown and changed during the past six years, too, maybe I now look at the character in a different way myself too. So, it's a little bit more grown-up edition of the character for a little bit more grown-up me.

I already knew that this direction treats Valjean well, giving him space and depth. This time, I especially loved... no, scratch that, I was especially heartbroken to watch the character growing older during the course of the show. No overblown makeup, just some different wigs and very good acting.

Compared to Christer Nerfont, who I saw and loved in Wermland Opera's production, I really can't say whose acting I prefer. I think Lycke's Valjean is a bit more undemonstrative and guarded. Seems like this dude hardly admits his own feelings to himself, let alone others, until they become too much to bear and burst out in a series of wonderfully beautiful songs.

And about those, I've said it before and I'll say it again: no one sings the part better than Alex. I've nothing to add to that, that's just how it is.


If Jean Valjean was good, Javert wasn't half bad either.  

Philip Jalmelid is the only Wermland Opera lead to reprise his role in Smålands Musik & Teater's production. Back in Wermland Opera, I didn't really agree with all the details of his performance. While my personal interpretation of the character is still quite different from Jalmelid's, I appreciate how his Javert has calmed down since last year, become a little more restrained. The character feels a bit older and a bit more realistic now.

Though really, if you sing Stars as perfectly as Jalmelid does, I won't care if the rest of your performance is delivered via sock puppetry. Finding the right words to describe this rendition of Stars – my favourite Les Mis song! – is hard. Jalmelid's take was powerful in Karlstad already, but now, experienced from the front row...

It was like his voice filled every single square inch in the theatre, squeezing air out of my lungs and all wandering thoughts out of my mind. After the song, I was honestly a bit startled to hear my own voice: for a second there, I forgot all manners and just made the highest and loudest sound I possibly could. I needed to get all that excitement and emotion out of my system somehow.

If Stars was the highlight of the first act, Bring Him Home was easily the best part of the second half. I of course knew what was coming, I have heard that one from the front row a couple of times before, but still, it never fails to amaze me. How does Alex turn the most boring tune in the whole show into its most beautiful song? No idea, but here we are again.


Another performance I really liked was Anna-Hanna Rosengren as Fantine.

I haven't seen a Fantine quite like this before: young, shy and withdrawn, but with a lot of fire under the surface, ready to flash out. And her voice! I Dreamed a Dream is easily the most overdone song of the musical, being covered left and right, but I got chills listening to Rosengren. (By the way! You can listen to her, and the others, in this Facebook video from the musical's press conference. The picture is sideways at first, but don't let that bother you, they sound great nevertheless.)

I really love how this production has Fantine and Cosette sharing a couple of little moments. They don't meet physically, but there's for example this moment during Castle on a Cloud where little Cosette and Fantine, now a spirit in the afterlife, sing the She says, Cosette, I love you very much line together. Maybe I'm becoming a big softy, but now, it made me even more emotional than last year.

Other than these three... Well, that'll have to wait until me and my friends go back to Sweden in December. I think I need another round of this before stating any opinions about the other characters. I only have two eyes and one brain, so I sadly cannot both stare at my favourites with unwavering attention and focus on everybody else all at once! Next time, I shall try to pay a little more attention to Enjolras & co.

But all in all, you know what? I love musicals, I love Les Mis, and sometimes life is very very good.

Photos by Lars Kroon.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Ajatuksia plyysipenkistä

Olen taas lukenut teatteriuutisia.

Ei ehkä kannattaisi. Keittää nimittäin yli joka ainoa kerta.

Tällä kertaa hermostuin retroaktiivisesti Aamulehden heinäkuisesta teatterivuosikatsauksesta ja Helsingin Sanomien tämänaamuisesta Täsmäteatterin esittelyjutusta, joka sivuaa nuorison teatteritraumoja. Aamulehden juttu povaa yhtä aikaa laitosteatterin kuolemaa ja listaa maan katsotuimmiksi näytelmiksi isojen talojen suuria tuotantoja. Helsingin Sanomissa pohditaan nuorten teatteriennakkoluuloja ja uusien esityspaikkojen mukanaan tuomia etuja. Molemmat jutut ovat huolissaan teatterien katsojalukujen pienetymisestä ja katsomoiden nuorisokadosta.

Jutut herättävät minussa ristiriitaisia tunteita. Ensin olin jyrkästi sitä mieltä, että teatterien katsojakato ei voi olla kiinni Hesarin jutun mollaamista plyysipenkeistä tai pelastus kummuta Teatterin tiedotuskeskuksen johtajan Hanna Helavuoren Aamulehdessä peräänkuuluttamista uudenlaisista tavoista esittää. Sitten olin aivan varma, että kyse on juuri niistä.

Tarkennetaanpa.

Helsingin Sanomissa nostetaan esille Täsmäteatterin näyttelijöiden esittämä väite, että laitosteattereiden saleihin liitetään paljon olettamuksia ja ennakkoluuloja. Tämän uskon. Muutama vaikea teatterikokemus teini-iässä ja ennakkoluuloinen suhtautuminen taidemuotoon on sinetöity loppuiäksi.

En ihmettele ennakkoluuloisuutta ollenkaan. Koen nimittäin itsekin, että suomalaisen laitosteatterin lämpiö ei ole minun paikkani.

Olen nähnyt kaupunginteattereissa kirjaimellisesti satoja esityksiä – ulkopuolisuuden tunne avecinani. Kunhan sinne asti ehditään, teatterisalin pimeässä on turvallista ja mukavaa, mutta kokonaisvaltaisena elämyksenä perinteinen laitosteatteri-ilta on minulle nihkeä kokemus. En koe teatteria kutsuvaksi paikaksi parikymppiselle, vaatimattomasti tienaavalle, tennareihin ja farkkuihin taipuvaiselle ihmiselle. Olen ottanut sen asenteen, että voin mennä ja menen teatteriin sellaisena kuin olen, hauskaa pidetään vaikka hampaat irvessä, mutta ei se kovin luontevalta tunnu. Missä siellä voi edes seisoskella olematta tiellä? Leffaan voin mennä rentoutumaan. Teatteriin en, en, vaikka lavalla kerrottavat tarinat ovat mielestäni tuplasti niin kiehtovia ja vaikuttavia kuin valkokankaan tapahtumat.

(Ainoa poikkeus tästä on Åbo Svenska Teater, jonne voisin vaikka muuttaa asumaan. Siellä olen aina ollut kaksinkertainen ulkopuolinen ikäni ja äidinkieleni puolesta, mutta matikan sääntöjen vastaisesti kahden negatiivisen ynnääminen tuottaa tässä positiivisen tuloksen. Kolmetoista kertaa maailman parasta Les Misérablesia saattaa vaikuttaa myös.)

Ymmärrän, että monelle katsojalle hienosti pukeutuminen ja kymmenen euron kakunpalat kuuluvat teatteri-iltaan. Minusta ne tuntuvat vaikeilta ja vastenmielisiltä. Arvostan suomalaisten hyvää käytöstä teattereissa – osaamme olla hiljaa ja pitää kännykät taskussa vaikkapa saksalaisia tai lontoolaisia kanssayleisöjämme paremmin – mutta ehkä ripaus Lontoon-tyylistä rentoutta ei olisi pahitteeksi. Miksei meilläkin voisi tarjoilla jäätelöä katsomoon väliajalla?

Mutta! Molemmat mainitsemani lehtijutut ehdottivat ratkaisuksi uusia esityspaikkoja, Aamulehden haastattelema Tinfon johtaja vaikkapa vaellusteatteria tunturissa ja Helsingin Sanomien jututtama Täsmäteatterin väki esitystään Tampereen vanhassa uittotunnelissa. Kuulostaa kiinnostavalta, periaatteessa... Mutta mutuntumalta veikkaan, että meidän ujojen suomalaisten joukossa on myös iso joukko ihmisiä, joita ajatus teatterista teatterisalin ulkopuolella pelottaa ja ahdistaa vielä perinteistä teatteri-iltaa enemmän. Kuulun heihin itsekin. Laitoslämpiössä tunnen oloni kiusaantuneeksi, mutta pelkkä ajatus aktiivisesta osallistumisesta saa vereni hyytymään.

Mielestäni on hyvä, että tarjolla on yhä enemmän erilaisia, kokeileviakin mahdollisuuksia kokea esittävää taidetta. Silti toivon, että vaihtoehtoihin kuuluu jatkossakin teatteri-ilta plyysipenkin rauhallisessa syleilyssä, nykyisestä pönötyksestä rentoutettuna mutta silti teatterisalin perinteisen turvallisessa pimeässä. (Tai no, miksei sitten vaikka uittotunnelin turvassa – sanottakoon, että Täsmäteatterin ajatus teatterin tuttujen elementtien säilyttämisestä uudessa ympäristössä miellyttää kaltaistani uusien tilanteiden jännittäjää.)

Toisin sanoen suo siellä, vetelä täällä. Todellinen ongelma on ohjelmisto.

Tämä ei ole uusi keskustelu. Itse olen kirjoittanut samasta aiheesta aikaisemmin muun muassa täällä, täällä ja täällä. Väitän yhä, että ulkoiset puitteet eivät riitä karkottamaan katsojaa teatterista, jos hän kokee ohjelmiston riittävän kiinnostavaksi. Minä löysin oman lajityyppini, ja sillä tiellä ollaan. Uskon, että sama voi käydä muillekin. Jos teos kiinnostaa tarpeeksi, ei loppujen lopuksi ole väliä, esitetäänkö sitä metsälaavulla vai 1800-luvulla rakennetussa teatterisalissa. Valtion tukemilla laitosteattereilla on vieläpä puolellaan se etu, että niiden resurssit riittävät sekä tuotannossa että markkinoinnissa paljon muita tekijöitä pidemmälle.

Mutta onko keskimääräisessä suomalaisessa laitosteatterissa tarjolla sellaista ohjelmistoa, joka sekä kiinnostaa että on hintansa puolesta saavutettavissa keskivertoteinille tai parikymppiselle?

Odotan todellisella mielenkiinnolla Taidetestaajat-hankkeessa syntyviä kasiluokkalaisten kulttuurikritiikkejä. Toivottavasti palautetta kuunnellaan teattereissa.

Tämän, tämän ja tämän jälkeen olen oikeastaan jo aika väsynyt kirjoittamaan tästä asiasta. Tehkää jooko joku joko Vampyyrien tanssi oikeasti opiskelijaystävällisillä hinnoilla, joku nuorista hahmoista kertova (off-)Broadway-pläjäys tyyliin Dear Evan Hansen tai Heathers tai, hyvänen aika, vaikka Frank Wildhornin Dracula ja katsotaan, mitä siitä seuraa. Onko ottajia?

P.S. Mielestäni "laitos" on suomen kielen hirvein sana.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Summer of Notre Dame


Last week, Fredericia Teater's production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame closed for good.

Funny how, even though my personal last time seeing the production was over a month ago, I still felt a jolt of sadness on Saturday. Now it's really over. No more behind-the-scenes Instagram photos from the cast, no more fans sharing their feelings about yesterday's performance on Facebook. No more knowing that even though I can't be there in Copenhagen to see the night's show, someone else is, and they're having the time of their life.

This won't be a long post, since I've already written a review, another review and an interview. But here are some finishing thoughts. I think this adventure, seeing a long-time favourite musical live for the first time and all that followed, deserves that.

I'll keep repeating this until I'm too old to remember that night anymore – I've never experienced anything like the October 2016 premiere of this production was. Here's how actor Lars Mølsted (Quasimodo) described it to me when I met him in July:

"Just after the show, I met with the director Thomas Agerholm backstage. We were literally just standing there and shaking our heads to each other for ten seconds, thinking, 'I don’t know what just happened'."

I think it wasn't just the cast and the director who felt that way – I believe every single person in the theatre that night shared the feeling. I remember how, walking back to our hotel, me and my friend were also shaking our heads. What just happened, indeed.

I've tried, but I still cannot find the exact right words to convey what I felt there. Those two and a half hours, nothing outside that theatre mattered.

I saw The Hunchback of Notre Dame four times this July, twice in Berlin and twice in Copenhagen. In retrospect, the Berlin production was a bit of a disappointment – the more I think about it, the more I feel the design and the direction of the production didn't bring out the best in the script (read my full review). Though of course, had I not seen Fredericia Teater's production at all, I would probably be writing a different review about the Berlin version now...

I'm happy I got to take two friends with me to see the Copenhagen performances this summer. I know extreme enthusiasm, like mine, is usually off-putting rather than enticing. But I'm glad they agreed to come with me, and I'm glad they enjoyed themselves, too. It's good to have people with whom you can share something like this, to know that you're not the only one you know who remembers the experience.

It has been a long time since a musical has really, really touched me, not only my mind but also my soul. I've seen hundreds of theatrical performances, but honestly, I can only think of two other occasions when a production has hit me this hard. I know this is going to be one of those where, years from now, I can watch a fantastic production of the very same musical and think, yes, this is very nice – but still, it is not like that production was. I'll keep trying to find something that'd make me feel like this production did.

This is why I'm a theatre fan, to have experiences like this. Even if – or maybe just because – theatre is so fleeting and once the experience is over, you'll never have it back.

Here are two videos from the curtain call of the last performance. I couldn't be there, but I know how everybody in the audience felt like. I know that excitement, that rush of adrenaline. I'm glad I got to be there earlier this summer, and I'm glad everyone cheering on those videos got to be there, too.

I'm glad we got to share this.



P.S. I'd be lying if I didn't mention that having my piece about Fredericia Teater's Hunchback published in Finland's biggest subscription newspaper – a first for me – wasn't the highlight of my summer. How about that!!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Hamlet Live!

Spending a weekend in Copenhagen in July, I didn't only watch a Disney musical – I also got to see some surprise Shakespeare.

Denmark is my family's vacation destination of choice, so I've been to the country closer to 30 times. This time, though, I was traveling with a friend who is not as familiar with the country. So, as one of the essential things to see during a short stay in the Copenhagen area, we decided to take a little trip outside the capital and check out Helsingør's Kronborg Castle – the castle that's famously depicted as Elsinore in Shakespeare's Hamlet.

Some Danish family drama. Photo by me!

I last visited Kronborg two years ago, and they highlighted the Hamlet connection then, too: I went on a guided tour led by Hamlet's friend Horatio. He took us around the castle, retelling the tragic story of his friend as we went. Shakespeare actually never visited Kronborg, the fictional depiction was perhaps entirely made up or possibly inspired by tales told by traveling actors. Nevertheless, it was fun walking around the castle and seeing where each scene might have taken place.

This summer, we were treated to something even better. We got to be a part of Hamlet Live. Every day all summer long, you can catch one of two alternating casts acting out various scenes from Hamlet all around Kronborg Castle.

The story, with concept and direction by Peter Holst-Beck and Barry McKenna, is stripped down to essentials. We don't get to meet all the characters from the play, but Hamlet (Benjamin Stender / Jacob C. Utzon-Krefeld), King Claudius (Oliver Lavery / Rasmus Emil Mortensen), Queen Gertrude (Birgitte Boesen / Linda Elvira), Ophelia (Alexandra Jespersen / Antonia Pipaluk Stahnke), Polonius (Andrew Jeffers / Barry McKenna / Ian Burns) and Laertes (Jefferson Bond / Kenneth Wright) are all there – and so is the ghost of Hamlet's father, or so I hear.

King Claudius, alone. Photo by Laura Haajanen.

Entering the castle, we received a little leaflet with hints about where each character likes to hang out. For example, Queen Getrude is often in the queen's chamber, and the ghost might show up in the dark casemates. If you're not satisfied with such vague instructions, there's also a blackboard with a list of upcoming scenes near the castle entrance, complete with exact spots and performance times. The show goes on for the whole day, from 10 am to 17 pm, though I believe they play each scene twice during the day.

The play is performed in contemporary English, so it's easier for tourists from all around the world to understand than Shakespeare's language would be. Its tone is rather lighthearted and tongue-in-cheek. I think the show features just the right amount of humor. You have serious scenes with thoughts of guilt and murder, but it's all presented in a light enough manner that it's easy to jump in whenever you stumble across a scene.

The audience has a part to play, too. We are members of the court, or maybe visitors to the castle from foreign courts, and we get to greet the new king of Denmark and take part in Hamlet's ploy by booing during the right parts of his play-within-a-play. Sometimes, the characters even have a little chat with some of us.

Me and my friends didn't have enough time to watch all of the scenes, but we still caught quite a lot of them: the newly crowned king greeting the public with his queen, Hamlet's play-within-a-play, Claudius's monologue about his guilt, Hamlet feigning insanity in front of Polonius, Hamlet and Ophelia fighting...

Out of the bits we saw, my favourite scene was the play-within-a-play Hamlet uses to make sure his uncle Claudius feels tormented by guilt. This version reimagines it as a hand puppet show performed by Hamlet himself. It's very silly, very tongue-in-cheek – and the best thing is, it still works! Watching Hamlet's completely ridiculous one-man performance, Claudius starts feeling riddled with guilt, and retires to the grand ballroom to think on his sins.

Preparing for the puppet show. Photo by Laura Haajanen.

The play is meant for people of all ages, and indeed, us grown-ups weren't the only ones interested. It was the cutest thing when, after Hamlet and Ophelia had had a fight with rings and old love letters flying around and Hamlet storming away, a couple of children picked up the ring and the torn letters and gave them back to Ophelia. Ah, my heart! The kids seemed pretty enamored with Ophelia in general. And it's no wonder. She wears a beautiful gown and she lives in a castle – she's practically a fairytale princess.

Actually, the audience interaction was fun and well-done all the way through, and this is coming from someone who absolutely despises audience interaction if it's done in a traditional theatre setting.

Here, with lights on and the audience and the characters mingling in the same rooms, it felt very natural when the characters stopped to chat with audience members. My friend heard an especially funny exchange when Polonius introduced his daughter Ophelia to one of us tourists.

OPHELIA: And where are you from?
TOURIST: The colonies.

Ten audience interaction points to you, clever fellow tourist! I wish I was as quick-witted as that person, but I'm afraid that's not my forte. When Polonius, a proper gentleman, bowed to me when we were leaving, I just ended up giving him a dumbfounded look. Sorry about that! Next time, I shall practice my curtsy in advance.

The lovely Ophelia. Photo by Laura Haajanen.

This was a wonderful experience. The entrance tickets to the castle are rather expensive, but with something like this included in the price, you really feel you're getting your money's worth. Had we had more time, it would have been fun arriving early and trying to see all the scenes.

Hamlet Live runs until August 31st. If you're anywhere near Copenhagen this month, I warmly recommend it.

Read more about Hamlet Live on Kronborg Castle's website.

P.S. My favourite character was King Claudius. He was so deliciously, hilariously villainous. The best I can describe him is Scar from The Lion King come to life – fittingly enough, remembering that the Shakespeare character was the inspiration for the Disney villain!