Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Helan går och heja Sverige!

Please note: I saw this play for free on the courtesy of Tampereen Teatteri.

This is one of the moments when writing a blog mostly about Finnish theatre in English feels especially silly. How do I even begin explaining this one to non-Finns?

The stereotypical Finn is jealous of the stereotypical Swede. They have everything better than us. They are happier, they always win the Eurovision song contest, they're not shy and depressed like we are. Unlike us, they discuss their feelings. Their summers are longer and sunnier than ours. We laugh at the Swedish, we tell mean jokes about them, we celebrate in the streets whenever we beat them in ice hockey – and we wish we were them. They even have that nice royal family instead of boring presidents!

In Miikka Nousiainen's book Vadelmavenepakolainen, and now in Tampereen Teatteri's play of the same name, Mikko Virtanen has a problem. On the outside, he is like any other Finnish man, born and raised in the Finnish town of Kouvola. But on the inside, he doesn't just wish he was Swedish. He is Swedish. Virtanen feels he's born to the wrong nationality and is willing to go to desperate measures to reach his impossible goal: to become a native Swede. Soon enough the lines between legal and illegal, moral and inmoral, mean nothing anymore...

An example of an idyllic Swedish family.

The play, directed by Pentti Kotkaniemi, obviously poked fun at the stereotypes we Finns have of Swedes, but also the stereotypes we have of ourselves, and the differences (both imagined and real) of the two nations. It's also a story of a person trying to be something he can't be. What's more, it's hilarious. I mostly watch musicals, the type where you wallow in tears. So, I don't even remember laughing this hard while watching theatre...

Having read Nousiainen's book, I was interested to see how it'd work onstage – and happy to see it worked well. I actually liked the play a bit better than the book.

I thought the book's pace was too slow, but the stage version fixed that. What's more, the main character's creepy and sympathetic sides were balanced better than in the book, the extreme lenghts he went to make his Swedish dream come true felt somewhat more effective onstage. I also liked the vague onstage ending slightly better than the book's more in-your-face grass is always greener elsewhere lesson. The play was, overall, a bit lighter than the book. Since the subject matter is so ridiculous, I think it was a good direction to go.

However, the play had a few moments where it tried too hard to make the audience laugh. I admit, I laughed at some of those bits anyway. But maybe giving the audience some time to breathe with a quiet moment or two wouldn't have felt out of place, even if it's a comedy. Or maybe a two-hour-long joke about Swedes is simply too long to be genuinely funny all the time, no matter how Finnish you are? But for the most part, the outrageous comedy worked. You can't be too serious about a story like this.

The play had around 60 characters and six actors portraying them.  

Miska Kaukonen played the central character of Mikko Virtanen. Since the story is so strongly about this one character and consists largely of his monologues, it's important he's performed well. Luckily, Kaukonen portrayed the part pretty perfectly. You never lost interest in Virtanen's story and even symphatised with and rooted for him – even though his creepy side was also evident... I especially enjoyed the bits during the second act where Virtanen's Finnish background started to show through the Swedish facade.

The rest of the cast (Linda Wiklund, Risto Korhonen, Ville Majamaa, Elisa Piispanen, Kai Bäckström, accompanied by musician Jukka Hänninen / Arto Piispanen) did a good job, too, quickly switching in between dozens of characters. Risto Korhonen was especially memorable in his parts. No matter if he played a Christmas elf or a cat, he never failed to make me laugh. Judging by the audience reactions, I wasn't the only fan of his performances.

All in all... A couple of days after seeing Vadelmavenepakolainen, I burst out laughing while brushing my teeth just because I remembered one of the jokes. So, if you're in need of some laughter, maybe consider seeing this one. Worked for me!

Photos by Harri Hinkka / Tampereen Teatteri.
Joskus sitä ihan tosissaan miettii, että pitäisi vaihtaa kieltä... No, saavatpa ainakin blogiin mahdollisesti eksyvät ruotsalaiset tietää, mille Suomessa nauretaan.

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