Friday, December 21, 2012

Two Short Reviews: Violins and Electroshocks

I've seen a handful of shows lately. So, instead of a huge rant about each, it's time for a combination post of short reviews again: Viulunsoittaja katolla / Fiddler on the Roof in Helsingin kaupunginteatteri and Next to Normal in Tampereen Työväen Teatteri.

Viulunsoittaja katolla / Fiddler on the Roof, Helsingin kaupunginteatteri

Riitta Havukainen as Golde, Esko Roine as Tevje.

I swore I wouldn't see this show. My excuse: a friend invited me... And I admit, I was curious about Fiddler. The whole world seems to love it, so maybe there's something to like, even for me?

Indeed, let's start with the good things. I enjoyed Esko Roine as Tevje. Fiddler, to me, seems like a show that will fall flat on its face if the actor playing Tevje isn't up to the task. Luckily, Roine was. His Tevje felt real to me. The problems he faced seemed like something that could've once happened in someone's real life. He wasn't a hero, he made some dubious choices – like a real human being.

I also quite liked the supporting cast. There were some actors whose performances grated on me, but as a whole, the cast did a good job. A special nod to Tuukka Leppänen as Perchik. I felt a tad more awake whenever he was onstage.

Everyone knows Fiddler's music, and it was pretty nice hearing it live. It is rather catchy (read: enjoy listening to If I Were a Rich Man play in your head for the rest of your earthly life).

Then the bad. I think the show was bo-ring. Nothing seemed to happen. I was ready for the intermission about seven times during the first half. The piece also suffered from mood swings: upsetting moments and cheap laughs followed each other with no break in between. Also, the ending felt completely empty to me. Were the villagers even upset?

What's more, the characters, apart from Tevje, were paper-thin. It's more to do with the script than the actors, but it's a problem nevertheless. Tevje's daughters didn't seem to have any defining characteristics. Two out of three suitors had some character, but then there was the last one. It baffled me how one of the daughters made a huge sacrifice for a man who is given three minutes onstage.

While the sets, costumes and choreography served their purpose, I don't think there was anything new or creative in them, nor in Hans Berndtsson's direction as a whole. See how much has changed, visually, since the 60s.

I stand behind what I've said previously: I think Fiddler is a safe and boring choice, perfect for summer outdoor theatres, and I'm disappointed HKT did it. I sure could've lived without this production. However, if a rehash of a fifty-year-old show brings in this enthusiastic audiences (I've never heard people applausing dialogue scenes in a musical before)... I guess the theatre must be happy with their pick.

Raili Raitala as Hodel, Tuukka Leppänen
– as you can recognise from his face as Perchik.

Next to Normal, Tampereen Työväen Teatteri

Eriikka Väliahde as Diana.

Last time I wrote about Next to Normal, I listed what's wrong with the show. While I came to the conclusion that I might want to see Next again, I soon noticed I didn't actually agree with my own opinion. The mere thought of seeing the show one more time started making me annoyed, for all the reasons listed in the previous review: the black-and-white view of treating mental illnesses, the weak second act, the show forcing its opinions down the audience's throat... I felt that no, I've officially stopped liking this thing, too bad I still have a ticket for the Tampereen Työväen Teatteri version.

Not so bad after all! I left TTT as a N2N fan again. I've now seen three versions of Next to Normal, and TTT's is the best out of them. 

The story has never felt this real to me. I completely forgot about its problems watching this. It's a shame TTT didn't change the family's name to something Finnish, like Wasa Teater did, I think that would've made the show hit even closer to home... But I loved the changes they did make. Most notably, they changed the song Better Than Before into dialogue. The slightly witty tune turned into a proper, much-needed but not out-of-place comic relief. The audience was actually laughing. Overall, TTT managed to turn the dragging second act into something interesting. Tuomas Parkkinen's direction had a couple of moments I could've done without, but as a whole, the show had a nice flow going on.

What's more, two thumbs up for Kristiina Saha's sets! It was refreshing to see them take a different turn from the usual cold and angular Next sets. I especially liked Natalie's cage-like little own space.

The cast (Eriikka Väliahde, Puntti Valtonen, Jukka Nylund, Emmi Kaislakari, Juha-Matti Koskela, Toni Harjajärvi) impressed too. When I saw the Wasa Teater production, I wrote they had managed to make my usual least favourite character Natalie compelling – here, I could almost call her my favourite. Kaislakari made her character alive in a way I could, if not relate to, at least understand. Not to say Natalie's family was any worse. Touching and real are words I could describe both Väliahde's Diana and Valtonen's Dan with. The latter's voice didn't seem suited for the part and therefore didn't really hold a candle to other Dans I've seen (greetings to Sören Lillkung), but that hardly mattered, I liked the overall performance nevertheless.

TTT's Next to Normal has four performances left. I recommend it for everyone.

The neat-o set. And the cast!

Photos by Tapio Vanhatalo and Petri Kovalainen.


  1. Raili esitti Hodelia, vaikka tuo kuvatekstisi muuta väittää. Anna-Maija Tuokko oli Tzeitel. :D

    1. Hops, nyt meni käsiohjelmaa tulkitessa rivit autuaan sekaisin. Fiksattu!

  2. I've only seen the movie version of Fiddler, but I had the exact same problem as you had with Chava getting disowned by her family and sacrificing everything to run off with a guy whom the audience has seen in two or three very short scenes and who seems pretty creepy to me at least... I wasn't convinced by Hodel and Perchik's love story either because Perchik was maybe one of the flattest student revolutionaries in the history of the world, far from Enjolras and the other French boys! In the movie, Perchik seemed to show so little love towards Hodel that I'm pretty sure that when Hodel's train reaches Siberia she finds out that Perchik doesn't care about her any more!

    1. In HKT, Perchik was played by Tuukka Leppänen – so that wasn't a problem there! I feel Tuukka would be convincing even if he just sat onstage and read from the phonebook... ;) (I also feel Tuukka would make an amazing Enjolras, but I doubt that's going to happen. Oh well!)

      Anyway, wonder if I should see the movie one day! It'd be interesting to see how it compared to the stage version, even if I wasn't all that charmed by the show...

  3. I would recommend the movie, if just to see how Topol epicifies the role of Tevye. Motel is also adorable, the only one of the 3 suitors that I liked. It gets a bit repetitive when all the 3 sisters basically go through the same pattern of choosing husbands that Tevye doesn't approve and so on, but there are some scenes that really had me all emotional and chills running down my back!