Thursday, February 16, 2017

Tom of Finlands

Please note: I was invited to see the premiere of Tom of Finland the movie. I worked in Turun kaupunginteatteri during the production and the premiere of Tom of Finland the musical.

This Monday, I was invited to a very special event: the grand premiere of Tom of Finland the movie in Helsinki!

Coincidentally, as of late, I've been living a rather Tom of Finland infused life. My contract in Turun kaupunginteatteri (a Finnish theatre, Turku City Theatre in English) has just finished, but while working there, I did PR for Tom of Finland the musical – a brand-new Finnish musical based on the iconic artist and his homoerotic drawings.

Personally, I'm not into Tom of Finland, but because of my work involving the musical, I've become somewhat familiar with the artist and his work. So, after having seen the show three times, I was feeling rather curious about the movie. Based on the same person's life, how would the adaptations compare?

Touko Laaksonen. Photo by Philip Stuart,
courtesy of Tom of Finland Foundation Inc.

In case you're as unfamiliar with Tom of Finland as I was a few years ago, here's him in a nutshell: Touko Laaksonen, 1920–1991, was a Finnish war veteran, musician, advertising artist, and – first and foremost – a homoerotic artist known for his depictions of masculine, muscular and mustachioed gay men.

Here in Finland, we have really started celebrating Tom of Finland's drawings during the past few years. During his life, Tom of Finland was not known in his home country – but now, there are exhibitions and bags and shirts and curtains and sheets and postcards and even stamps featuring Tom's muscular men.

And now, just in time for the 100th birthday of independent Finland, we have the two fictional retellings of the artist's life. The movie is directed by Dome Karukoski and written by Aleksi Bardy, while the musical has book and lyrics by Tuomas Parkkinen, is composed by Jussi Vahvaselkä and Jori Sjöroos and directed by Reija Wäre.

Pekka Strang plays Touko Laaksonen in the movie.
Photo by Josef Persson
Olli Rahkonen plays Touko Laaksonen in the musical.
Photo by Otto-Ville Väätäinen

It's interesting to look at the similarities in between these two works of fiction.

Both feature decades of Touko Laaksonen's life. The musical tells his story from childhood all the way to heaven, while the movie begins with Touko as a young man fighting in World War II and stops a little before his death.

Both adaptations present life partner Veli and sister Kaija as the most important people of Touko's life. Both suggest that Kaija, who works as an advertising artist, is jealous of her brother's artistic success. While the theme is explored further in the musical, both also hint at Kaija having romantic feelings for Veli. To my knowledge, neither of these things can be substantiated, so it's intriguing that both adaptations have arrived to similar conclusions.

Touko's 28-year-long relationship with Veli, then, is shown as rather romantic and sweet in the film. I suppose the musical captures the real-life couple's sometimes stormy story a little more accurately. Both versions choose to move on from Veli's death rather quickly, not showing us the pain one assumes Touko must have gone through.

Both versions also feature Kake, Tom of Finland's most iconic character, coming to life. In the musical, he's featured throughout the second act and has his own song, while in the movie he makes a couple of brief appearances as a manifestation of Touko's imagination.

What's more, both adaptations highlight the way society has treated members of the LGBTA+ community throughout the years. Both offer some chilling insights into the not-too-distant past where being gay was a crime. The musical has a stronger focus on survival, letting us in on a secret code gay men used to communicate with each other in wartime Helsinki, while the movie has multiple scenes showing violence towards gay men.

One of the sweeter scenes from the movie: Touko and Veli (Lauri Tilkanen).
A still from the movie

To me, the key difference in between these two adaptations is that overall, the musical focuses more on Tom of Finland's art and his sources of inspiration, while the movie is about Touko Laaksonen's life and his private struggles. Despite telling the story of an erotic artist, the film hardly touches upon why Touko started drawing or how his art evolved throughout his career.

I knew it's first and foremost a biopic, but even so, I was suprised by how the movie never really stops and takes a long look at Tom of Finland's drawings. In the musical, they're continuously present, projected on walls and brought alive by choreography. There's even a scene centered around a piece of art featuring an orgy. But in the movie... With quick pans and blurry focus, it almost feels like the camera is a little ashamed of the pictures!

In the recent years, Tom of Finland's drawings have become mainstream in Finland, but that only applies to a part of them – namely, the part where the men have their pants on. Not all of Tom's pictures are palatable to general audiences, but just for that reason, I appreciate the musical for bringing some of the X-rated art front and center. No matter if you're a fan of the art or only there to experience the story of a famous Finn, you have to take a look and form your own opinion.

The musical cast admiring Tom's art, with Ville Erola as Kake in the middle.
Photo by Otto-Ville Väätäinen

In the musical, it feels like our hero gets ahead in life rather easily, and the show is an optimistic celebration of his life and his drawings. It makes you cry (to be honest, it makes me cry as hard as that awful letter scene from Billy Elliot – in other words, really hard and repeatedly), but the audience also gets to laugh out loud together, and leave the theatre humming catchy showtunes.

The movie, then, left me feeling melancholy. To me, it's a story of a man who struggled a lot and had few moments of happiness. It ends on a positive note about Tom of Finland living on even when Touko Laaksonen has passed away, but to me, the film is no celebration. It's a remembrance.

Which way is the right one, or closer to the truth? I don't know, and I don't know if you can know.

Personally, I prefer the musical's optimistic touch, but I can see where the movie is coming from. It cannot have been easy being gay and drawing homoerotic art in a time when society doesn't only frown upon that but beats you up for it. It must have been hard never introducing the love of your life to your family as your partner, only as your roommate. The world of Tom's drawings is full of smiles and pride. The movie argues that for Touko, life was something quite different.

Trying to squeeze a real person's whole life into two hours, I guess it's as valid to focus on the sadness as it is to highlight the good stuff.

But remembering the out-and-proud, unabashed and smiling men of the drawings... Sad is just not the way I expected Tom of Finland the movie would make me feel.

Trailer for the movie (Finnish only)

The song "Glad to Be Gay" from the musical

Lue myös: Tämän kylän homopoika -blogin näkemys elokuvasta, One Night in Theatre -blogin näkemys musikaalista

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Niin mieleni pahoitin

Onko huolestuttava piirre 23-vuotiaassa tunnustaa olevansa Mielensäpahoittaja-fani?

Fanius alkoi salavihkaa jossain Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova -museon liepeillä, jossa Linnateatteri kesällä 2014 esitti Miniä-näytelmää. Nauroin ja nautin. Luin kirjat, katsoin leffan, nauroin lisää ja vähän liikutuinkin. Pikkuhiljaa aloin suorastaan hakeutua Mielensäpahoittajan pariin.

Viimeisten parin kuukauden sisään olen käynyt katsomassa Mielensäpahoittajan edesottamuksia Kansallisteatterin näytelmässä Ilosia aikoja, Mielensäpahoittaja ja Tampereen Työväen Teatterin Suomi 100 -juhlasatsauksessa Mielensäpahoittajan Suomi.

Näytelmät panivat minut miettimään Mielensäpahoittaja-faniuttani uudemman kerran.

Mielensäpahoittaja kolmessa iässä Tampereen Työväen Teatterissa.
Kuva: Kari Sunnari

Mielensäpahoittaja on kirjailija Tuomas Kyrön hengentuote, vanha mies, joka pahoittaa mielensä herkästi kaikesta sitten vuoden 1953 tapahtuneesta kehityksestä – eikä epäile ilmaista mielipahaansa omintakeisin sanankääntein paikallislehden yleisönosastossa. Mielensäpahoittajan rinnassa sykkii kuitenkin lämmin sydän: mies jaksaa pitää huolta vuodeosastolle joutuneesta emännästä ja leipoo lapsenlapsille räiskäleitä. Kirjana Mielensäpahoittaja ilmestyi ensimmäistä kertaa vuonna 2010.

Alkuaikojen Mielensäpahoittaja on karikatyyri, liioiteltu ja koominen hahmo, johon on hämmennetty juuri tarpeeksi iso loraus surumielisyyttä ja todellisuutta. Näen hahmossa pienenpienen pilkahduksen edesmennyttä isoisääni, hahmon huolehtivaisessa cityhippipojassa tunnistan omien vanhempieni huolen vanhenevista läheisistä. Hahmon jyrkille mielipiteille on tarkoitus nauraa, tunnistettavat muruset ja rivien väleihin kirjoitettu melankolia riittävät maustamaan fiktion todelliseksi ja samaistuttavaksi.

Nyttemmin Mielensäpahoittaja on muuttunut. Tragikoominen hahmo tuntuu teos teokselta yhä traagillisemmalta. Vai olisiko kyse jo ylitsevuotavasta siirappisuudesta?

Mika Myllyahon Kansallisteatteriin ohjaama Ilosia aikoja, Mielensäpahoittaja liikkuu jo melko syvissä ja vakavissa vesissä nimihenkilön (Vesa Vierikko) kirjoittaessa testamenttiaan ja rakentaessa arkkuaan. Onneksi tunnelmaa tasapainotetaan hauskoilla heitoilla ja sukupolvien välisellä kuilulla leikittelyllä. Lopputuloksena on melko vakava mutta ei synkkä näytelmä, joka jättää mieleen rauhallisen olon. Yhteentörmäyksiltä ei aina voida välttyä, mutta elämä jatkuu.

Tiina Puumalaisen ohjaama Tampereen Työväen Teatterin Mielensäpahoittajan Suomi sen sijaan ei naurata enää yhtään. Poissa on änkyrämäinen mielipaha, tilalla yhden miehen (nimiroolin jakavat Raimo Grönberg, Jyrki Mänttäri ja Niila Nousiainen / Sisu-Petteri Haraholma) elämän kipukohtien kautta kulkeva matka 1930-luvulta nykypäivään. Mieli pahoitetaan pari kolme kertaa, katsomossa en nauranut kolmituntisen aikana ollenkaan. Näytelmässä on vaikuttavia sotakohtauksia ja turvapaikanhakija Alin (Chike Ohanwe) kokemukset todella pysäyttävät – mutta onko Mielensäpahoittaja kuitenkaan aivan oikea väylä näiden asioiden käsittelemiseen?

Mielensäpahoittaja ja poika autoretkellä Kansallisteatterissa.
Kuva: Tuomo Manninen

Ymmärrettävää on, että pinnalla pysyäkseen Mielensäpahoittajan on täytynyt aikuistua. Sama vitsi ei kanna loputtomiin, ja lisäksi hahmo on hyvin aikaan sidottu. 80-vuotias mies kymmenisen vuotta sitten oli erilainen kuin 80-vuotias mies tänään. Kun aika hiljalleen jättää tosielämän mielensäpahoittajista, on fiktiivisen hahmon joko uudistuttava tai väistyttävä itsekin valokeilasta.

Jossain vaiheessa hahmosta on vain päässyt katoamaan se, jonka vuoksi itse siihen alun perin tykästyin. Mielensäpahoittaja 2.0 on varmasti monien mieleen, mutta itse en pysty samaistumaan vanhan miehen maailmantuskaan samalla tavalla kuin pystyin eläytymään hänen mielipahaansa. Minun makuuni on liikaa, että ensimmäisissä teoksissa salaviisas mutta monessa asiassa umpivanhanaikainen mies on muuttunut likipitäen liberaalia elämänviisautta pulppuavaksi mietiskelijäksi.

Nii-in. Kyllä minä niin mieleni pahoitin, kun Mielensäpahoittaja ei enää ollutkaan kuin vanhoina, hyvinä aikoina.

Aika aikaa kutakin, toteaisi tähän varmasti Mielensäpahoittaja itsekin. Minun faniuteni taitaa nyt olla aikansa elänyt. Vanhempieni mökin kirjahyllyssä odottaa kirjasarjan ensimmäinen teos, jonka pariin varmasti palaan vielä tulevilla mökkireissuilla, mutta mahdollisen jatkon osalta luulen hyppääväni nyt pois kelkasta.

Ilosia aikoja!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Upcoming in 2017

Happy 2017!

Yesterday, the last day of 2016, I listed my top four musical performances of the previous year. Today, it's time to take a look at the future with another top four list – the musicals I'm most looking forward to in 2017.

Jekyll & Hyde, Teater Vorpommern, Germany

Photo by Vincent Leifer

Longtime readers know this story already. I and my two friends went to Greifswald, Germany to see Jekyll & Hyde and everything went wrong. This March, we'll travel to Greifswald again, in the hopes that the show will not be cancelled this time.

To quote my friend Rami: "We didn’t go to Greifswald and back for nothing, except we totally did". We've seen video of Chris Murray as Jekyll and Hyde, we know how amazing he can be in the roles. And soon, we'll attempt to see him live again.

I'm excited but mostly nervous. I think I shall relax only after the lights have dimmed and the show has begun. It's a long way to Greifswald and a long day there before we'll see if the show is on. Fingers crossed.

Nahkatakkinen tyttö, Lappeenrannan kaupunginteatteri


This is a bit of an outlier on this list. A high school and a professional theatre combining their forces for a new production of a jukebox musical based on the songs of the Finnish 80s band Dingo.

The thing is, Nahkatakkinen tyttö is such a great jukebox musical it really makes me forget it's jukebox at all. It feels like the songs have been written for the plot, centered around a group of high school kids spending a weekend in a cabin where something dark has happened, instead of the other way around.

So far, I've seen this performed by two high schools (it was originally written for one of them) – and no matter how talented the performers, it's always a bit awkward when teens play adults. So I'm glad to see a coproduction with adults in the adult roles and teens playing teens. I've been hoping for such a cooperation to happen for a while, and this spring, my wish comes true.

Les Misérableses


In autumn 2017, Les Mis is popping up everywhere around Northern Europe: Smålands Musik & Teater, Jönköping, Sweden; Teater Vanemuine, Tarto, Estonia; Folketeateret, Oslo, Norway; MCH Musicals, Herning, Denmark...

I doubt I'm going to be able to see all of these in 2017, though they're all interesting in their own ways. So far, I've booked my tickets to one of them: I'll be seeing the premiere of the new Swedish production. It'll be a replica of the Karlstad production I last praised in my best of 2016 text, but with at least partially new casting. Not much is known about the production yet, but with the right cast, it might be quite wonderful – the direction is certainly good enough to bear replicating. We'll see!

I also find the new Estonian production very interesting since it'll be directed by Samuel Harjanne, who has acted in three different Finnish productions of the musical, first as Gavroche and then as Enjolras and other barricade boys. I'll be curious to see how his direction will be like and really hope I can fit it in my 2017 schedule, too.

Cats, Tampereen Teatteri 

Photo by Henri Mattila

Cats is one of the first musicals I fell in love with, so I'm happy that it's coming back to my home country. This new production, directed by Georg Malvius, will give the material a brand-new spin: the show will be narrated by a rat. It's interesting to see how that'll work out – glad to hear that Andrew Lloyd Webber approves of such bold reimagining of the classic megamusical.

Remembering Malvius's version of Hair, with some rearranging of the songs and scenes to make the whole musical more story-driven... I doubt the rat is going to be the only alteration here. It's interesting to see how Malvius's Cats, another musical that traditionally has hardly any plot, is going to play out.

Everything we've heard of the production so far sounds good, so I'm eagerly looking forward to this one. I bet it's going to be a lot of fun.

So, onwards to 2017! May the new year be filled with happy moments and fun experiences, theatrical and otherwise, for all of us.

Related posts: Best of 2016, Nahkatakkinen tyttö (Finnish only)

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Best of 2016

So, 2016. Worst year ever? Or maybe not so terrible after all? I don't know – but this way or that, thank goodness for live theatre.

For me personally, 2016 has been busy and exciting. I graduated and started working as a full-time communications coordinator in a theatre. The work's been both hard and challenging, fun and rewarding. I've still a lot to learn, but there have been moments when everything's felt just right. So whatever the future will bring, I hope I'll get to keep on learning and working in the field that's so close to my heart.

I've also seen plenty of shows this year, both good and otherwise. I like to focus on the good stuff, so to celebrate the end of 2016, here's a short list of the most memorable musical performances of the year. In no particular order, but saving the best for the last.

Jekyll & Hyde, Det Ny Teater, Denmark


Photo by Miklos Szabo

This was no perfect production, but it was an intriguing one that has haunted me for the better part of the year.

Implying Emma struggles with mental illness and giving Spider more time onstage were interesting decisions on their own, but the dark and disturbing tone of the whole production is even better. Instead of stumbling on the awkward parts of the musical's script, the Danish creative team managed to create a wonderful, creepy atmosphere with a strong focus on the duality and responsibility of man.

Deep stuff for Frank Wildhorn's Jekyll & Hyde the Musical, that's what I'm saying.

Last performance of Jekyll & Hyde in Jyväskylän kaupunginteatteri, Finland


Photo by Jiri Halttunen

This one's sort of cheating, since the production premiered in 2015 already. But the last performance in May 2016 was truely something special.

I don't know if it's a thing in other countries, but in Finland, it's something of a tradition that during the last performance of a theatrical production, actors play little pranks on each other. And let me tell you, I've never seen as thorough and as entertaining pranking as during this performance! Highlights included Jekyll impromptu singing and dancing his way into the Red Rat and all the Red Rat dancers taking turns in harassing Utterson during the scene that followed.

I don't know what the audience in general thought of the mayhem, but for us J&H fans gathered in the first rows of the auditorium, it was a hilarious treat. A perfect ending for a fun production.

Les Misérables, Wermland Opera, Sweden


Photo by Mats Bäcker

I travelled to Sweden twice for this (the link above is to my first review, read about the second time here).

I've seen Les Mis 30 times soon, but watching this production for the first time, I was so immersed in the story it really felt like I didn't know what's going to happen next. The production is not without its problems, but the way it treats Jean Valjean – as the main character of the story instead of a person around whom dramatic things keep happening... It sounds so simple, it's almost shocking how refreshing seeing that felt!

Klokkeren fra Notre Dame, Fredericia Teater, Denmark


Photo by Søren Malmose

I think I've said it all in my review. I waited for five years to see Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame the Musical live. I could have waited for fifteen and been completely satisfied. I'm grateful for the opportunity to watch this musical as a part of the premiere audience. Nothing can compare, and I doubt I'll ever experience anything else quite like this.

I know extreme enthusiasm, like mine, can be a bit scary. Maybe you think that if you saw the show, your experience could never live up to what I've described in my review. And maybe it won't! But even so, I cannot but encourage everyone who can make it to Copenhagen next summer to purchase a ticket now, while they're still available, to see it for yourself. Whether you're a fan or a professional, an artist or an enthusiast, it'll be a performance to remember.

Book your ticket, I'll book mine, and we'll see each other in Copenhagen next summer.

Related posts: Best of 2015, Upcoming in 2017
Bubbling under: Rock of Ages (it's currently playing in the theatre I work at. I doubt I would have seen the 80s rock jukebox show six times if I had had to pay full price, but as it is... It's all empty calories, nice sights and sounds with no substance whatsoever, but I have to be honest and admit I've enjoyed it immensely), Vampyyrien tanssi (I'm afraid I grew tired of the new Finnish production of Tanz der Vampire faster than I thought I might – but it was very entertaining, with the most enthusiastic Finnish musical fandom I've seen in years. It introduced me to new friends and let me have fun with old ones, and for that reason alone, it has a place in my heart)

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Greifswald II: The Beginning

Remember the blog entry I posted last summer, about the worst musical trip ever?

You know, that time I and my friends Ida and Rami and left for Greifswald, Germany to see Chris Murray in Jekyll & Hyde, and were met with an endless onslaught of awful? The bus was late with its septic tank overflowing, the traffic jammed due to an accident and the asphalt melting due to hot weather – and finally, the outdoor performance of Jekyll & Hyde we had travelled 1300 kilometers to see was cancelled due to a thunderstorm.

We swore our feet would never touch the ground of Greifswald again.

Guess who are going back.

The place of our nightmares.

Last summer, after our unfortunate trip and after us leaving them some rather sour feedback, the personnel of Theater Vorpommern contacted us. To make up for our disastrous journey, they offered us tickets to any upcoming performance of Jekyll & Hyde, and a hotel room for the night on top of that.

We howled with laughter but didn't delete the message.

At first, we sneered. As if! But as the fall approached and started turning into winter, we started thinking. Thinking and talking. What if... We travelled just so we could see Chris Murray play Jekyll and Hyde, and our curiosity about his performance is of course not yet satisfied. What's more, we've grown curious about the whole production, about everything we missed. What if it's great? What if it's terrible? We don't know, but we might, if we just... But most importantly, it's started to feel like The Greifswald Story is not yet quite complete. We're still on intermission and have to decide whether to walk out or to go back and watch the second act.

Last week, we sent a message to Theater Vorpommern and let them know that yes, we would like to come back. March 11th 2017.

It absolutely does not feel real.

It's either going to be perfectly magnificent or the theatre is going to burst into flames and collapse on us mid-performance.

In either case, someone's going to die. Photo: Vincent Leifer

I feel this is like a real-life sequel to a weird movie. A sequel where the plot is similar but the stakes are higher. A sequel with the same actors and the same settings but, I'm wishing with all my might, a completely different outcome.

Greifswald II: The Experience, The Adventure. The Revenge.

I will keep you posted.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Unohdetut nuoret naiset

Kirjailija, opettaja Tommi Kinnunen kirjoitti pari viikkoa sitten mainion kolumnin. Tekstissään Kinnunen peräänkuuluttaa nuorille suunnattuja teatteriesityksiä, joiden pääpaino ei ole opettavaisessa tarinassa. "Esimerkkien perusteella koululaisnäytännöt pohjautuvat enemmän tai vähemmän kuvitteelliseen käsitykseen siitä, millaista teini-ikä on", Kinnunen tykittää. Olen itse kirjoittanut samasta aiheesta, enkä voisi olla vahvemmin samaa mieltä.

Kinnusen kolumnin lukeminen palautti mieleeni erään ajatuksen, jota olen pohdiskellut jo pitempään. Jos nuorison toiveita keskimäärin ymmärretään teattereissa huonosti, on tietty osa nuorista unohtunut ohjelmistosuunnittelussa aivan kokonaan.

Miksi missään ei esitetä teinitytöille suunnattua teatteria?

Ainakin omasta näkökulmastani ja kokemuksestani vaikuttaa siltä, että silloin harvoin kun nuorille tehdään muuta kuin itsemurhaan kulminoituvia kiusaamissaagoja, seikkailevat esitysten sankareina yleensä pojat.

En toki väitä, etteikö kuka tahansa voisi samaistua poikien tarinoihin. Ymmärrän myös, että nimenomaan pojille suunnatuilla esityksillä on arvokas tavoite – on tärkeää haastaa ennakkoluuloja, joiden mukaan kaikenlaisia taideharrastuksia pidetään yhä tyttöjen puuhana. Teatteri on kaikille.

Mutta silti kysyn: mikä teatteri uskaltaisi tuottaa ensisijaisesti teinitytöille suunnatun näytelmän?

Minulla on jo tarjota näytelmälle aihekin, tai oikeastaan monta. Minkä tahansa kirjaston nuortenosastolta löytyy nimittäin hyllymetreittäin vaihtoehtoja.

Teinitytöille suunnattu kirjallisuus on ollut vuosikymmenestä toiseen täynnä kiinnostavia, persoonallisia ja särmikkäitä nuoria naisia. Itselleni (ikä: 23) rakkaita olivat muun muassa Vihervaaran Anna, poikatyttö Tiina, punkkari-Sara ja prinsessa Mia, ja nykyteineillä on varmasti omat suosikkihahmonsa. Tyttökirjoja luetaan ja rakastetaan vuodesta toiseen. Eikö niiden sankarittarien tarinoita voisi siis kertoa myös teatterin lavalla?

Seuraa karkea yleistys ja silkkaan mutuun pohjautuvaa spekulaatiota. Suurin osa suomalaisten teatterien johtajista on miehiä. Veikkaan, että moni heistä ei välitä tai edes tiedä tyttökirjaperinteen olemassaolosta – saati että pysähtyisi pohtimaan, olisiko tytöille suunnatussa kirjallisuudessa ainesta peräti näytelmäksi. Miehille sana nuortenkirja voi tarkoittaa aivan eri teoksia kuin naisille.

Onneksi tietoa nuorten naisten lukutottumuksista on saatavilla muillekin kuin Uudenkuun Emilian kanssa varttuneille runotytöille. Kirjastonhoitajilla ja äidinkielenopettajilla olisi varmasti antaa osviittaa siihen, mikä tyttöihin juuri nyt kolahtaa. Teinitytöiltä itseltään voisi pyytää neuvoja vaikkapa nettikyselyn muodossa.

Itse koin tyttökirjojen lukemisen kovin yksinäiseksi puuhaksi. Tosielämän ystävätyttöni eivät jakaneet rakkauttani kirjojen sankarittariin. Aivan varmasti koulussani olisi ollut muitakin tyttökirjojen ystäviä, mutta koska lukuharrastuksesta ei huudeltu, emme koskaan törmänneet toisiimme. Tyydyin nauttimaan suosikkikirjojeni tarinoista yksin.

Kuvitelkaapa siis, millainen kokemus kaltaisilleni, lukuharrastuksessaan yksinäisille tytöille (ja totta kai siinä samalla myös muita ikäkausia ja sukupuolia edustaville, samanhenkisille haaveilijoille ja sukulaissieluille) olisi tulla teatteriin ja kokea yhdessä elävä, hengittävä versio jostakin suosikkikirjastaan.

Paljon puhutaan siitä, että keski-ikäiset ja sitä vanhemmat naiset pitävät ahkerina kulttuurinkuluttajina suomalaiset teatterit pystyssä. Tämän päivän teinitytöt ovat joku päivä niitä keski-ikäisiä. Tulevaisuuden katsomot eivät täyty, jollei nykytyttöjä saada koukkuun. Siinäkin valossa olisi hienoa nähdä nimenomaan teinitytöille suunnattu esitys. Jonkin suosikkikirjan pohjalta – tai ehkäpä joku nykyhetken suosituimmista tytöille kirjoittavista nuortenkirjailijoista voitaisiin jopa pyytää kirjoittamaan tarkoitukseen sopiva uusi näytelmä?

Tytöt on unohdettu myös toisella tavalla. Uskoakseni aivan yhtä tärkeää kuin nostaa esille nuorten naisten tarinoita olisi myös kertoa meille nuorille (ja totta kai vanhemmillekin) naisille tarinoita vanhoista naisista.

Naisten puutteellisesta edustuksesta teatterilavoilla on puhuttu paljon. Tilanne ei tietenkään ole sama kaikissa teattereissa ja kehitys kehittyy koko ajan, mutta jälleen karkeasti yleistäen voidaan todeta, että vanhojen naisten tarinat ovat yhä paitsiossa teatterien ohjelmistoissa.

Itse ajattelen, että keski-ikäisten ja sitä vanhempien naisten tuominen päärooliin entistä useammin on tärkeää myös nuoren naisen näkökulmasta. Meidän itsetunnollemme tekisi hyvää nähdä lavalla esimerkkejä kaikenlaisista tavoista olla nainen. Ei vain vaimo, äiti ja isoäiti, vaan myös sankari ja tavis, hajottaja ja hallitsija, pyhimys ja pahis. Jo rautakautisissa legendoissa voimakas naisjohtaja herätti Kalevan pojissa pelkoa ja kunnioitusta. Tuokaa hänen sisarensa teatterilavoille!

Fiktiiviset naishahmot voivat olla meille nuorille naisille aivan yhtä tärkeitä esikuvia kuin tosielämän naiset. Vanhojen naisten puuttuminen kuvitteellisista tarinoista lähettää nuorille naisille vaivihkaisen viestin, että naisen elämä päättyy ennen viittäkymmentä ikävuotta, että hän keski-iän ylitettyään muuttuu näkymättömäksi. Aika kamala tulevaisuudenkuva.

Kaikista taiteenlajeista juuri teatterin toivoisi tarttuvan tähän ongelmakohtaan ja korjaavan sen. Jos rooleja vanhoille naisille ei ole, voidaan niitä onneksi kirjoittaa lisää – tai miksipä nainen ei voisi myös astua minkä hyvänsä klassisen mieshahmon saappaisiin ja tehdä roolista omansa.

Toistan loppuun sen, mitä olen aikaisemminkin sanonut: jos nykynuoria ei saada innostumaan teatterista, saa moni talo lyödä lähivuosikymmeninä lapun luukulle. 

Samalla kun pidätte tämän mielessä, otattehan nuoret naiset huomioon.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Les Misérables in Wermland Opera: Addendum

Last weekend, it was time for the year's second musical trip to Sweden!

Also time for the year's second trip to see Les Misérables in Wermland Opera in Karlstad, since I have a bit of a fixation like that.

I saw Wermland Opera's Les Mis first time this July. It filled me with the special glee only a fantastic production of this musical can inspire. Afterwards, I wondered if it's maybe the very best production of Les Misérables I've ever seen.

Having now seen it for the second time, let's take a short look at the experience. How did the production hold up?

Best things first.

In my original review, I said the following about Christer Nerfont's Jean Valjean:

"In short, I have never seen this thoroughly thought-out, three-dimensional, human portrayal of Jean Valjean's character. This is the first time the character has felt truely relatable to me."

Having seen the show for the second time, that is more true than ever. Nerfont's Jean Valjean is everything I could hope for the character to be.

Les Misérables is based on a 19th century novel with 19th century storytelling and Big Emotions – our hero essentially dies of a broken heart. It's no wonder Jean Valjean often feels a bit unrealistic and distant. Nerfont's Valjean, though, is none of that. He is a real person through and through, every action justified, every detail thought out (seriously, pay attention to his hands whenever he is trying to keep his calm while confronted by Javert). I couldn't bear to take my eyes off him whenever he was onstage, afraid I would miss some interesting nuance if I did!

I'm also glad I went for the second round since it gave me a chance to properly appreciate Cecilie Nerfont Thorgersen as Fantine.

I think I have found my dream Fantine. Nerfont Thorgersen's take is very angry and not fragile at all. This is a woman who has been let down by everybody, but even so, she refuses to break and keeps on fighting. The most important of all, she is a mother who loves her daughter with every fibre of her being. She doesn't feel regretful at all – it's all been for Cosette, so what would there be to regret? Nerfont Thorgersen's I Dreamed a Dream is especially impressive. It's such a journey through emotions, from hurt to longing and anger, I completely forgot how overdone the song is. I just listened and felt for the character.

Photo source: Facebook

In the role of Javert, we saw understudy John Alexander Eriksson. I liked him better than principal Philip Jalmelid. Jalmelid's out-of-this-world gorgeous singing remains unparalleled (though Eriksson's great!), but acting-wise, I prefer Eriksson's calmer, more stoic approach.

Eriksson is a very young Javert. Discussing the matter, me and my friends came to the conclusion it actually adds to the character. Maybe the Javert we see in the musical's prologue is an insecure young man who hides his self-doubts behind a harsh facade – and takes the hardships that come his way too personally, dwelling upon his mistakes until they turn into obsessions. By the time Javert and Valjean meet on the barricade, it's just been way too long for Javert to let go anymore. Eriksson does a great job highlighting the character's black-and-white worldview in Stars, making even a hardened Les Mis fan like me to stop and really listen to the lyrics for once!

It's a shame, however, that in James Grieve's direction, Javert is quite simply the villain of the piece. While Javert and Jean Valjean's scenes together are wonderfully intensive, our antagonist is still presented as a baddie who dies a horrible dark death all alone, and yet, is not worthy an absolution. I understand where that interpretation is coming from, but personally, I prefer a take with more shades of gray.

Watching the show for the second time highlighted the problems I have with the direction, but on the flip side, the good parts shone even brighter. The story flows forward with a flawless pace, the sets and lights are gorgeous, the orchestra is lush and the vocal performances top-notch. Many of the characterisations – the Thénardiers, Gavroche, Marius – are spot-on. Overall, the production is very refreshing to watch.

So, my sentence? Not quite as good the second time as it was the first, since the special magic of not knowing what you're going to get is gone... But let's be real here. The return trip would have been worth it for Jean Valjean alone. The rest is bonus goodness on top of that.

Les Mis is playing in Karlstad until April 2017. Catch it while you can!

Photos by Mats Bäcker.