“Angela’s ashes” – Frank McCourt’s Pulitzer award winner book – just world premiered in its musical theatre version in Hämeenlinna (Hämeenlinnan kaupungin teatteri http://www.hmlteatteri.fi/). Beyond being a compelling account of the author’s Irish family emigrating to NY to meet fortune before the second world war but ultimately forced to return to Ireland, “Seitsemmännen portaan enkeli” is the story of a bunch or actors and musicians who, in the purest theatre company tradition, wanted to create their own “encore” after enjoying to work together in the musical theatre piece “Tänä iltana kaikki hyvin – Songs of Leonard Cohen”. Ironically, only few weeks are separating the release of Leonard Cohen’s newest album “Old Ideas” and the premiere of “Seitsemmännen portaan enkeli” and if we wanted to further extend this parallel, we could also take “darkness” as a link between Cohen’s and McCourt’s work http://youtu.be/q6q7vCSmUU0
There is indeed the darkness of the daily misery in which McCourt and his family live – particularly when they return to Ireland, the darkness of the tea they drink every day often as a substitute to their meals, there is the darkness of bigotry and blind catholicism, the darkness of beers and pubs in the family father’s multiple attempts to forget the darkness of daily life but above all, there is dark humor, the light brought by a mother’s – and a father’s – unconditional love and the absolute power of dreaming your life (“It’s lovely to know that the world can’t interfere with the inside of your head”).
Mc Court’s excellent memoir has indeed all it needs to inspire other artists (Alan Parker made a movie of it http://youtu.be/6zLpf1XDNko): it is beautifully written (a style where a simple and perceptive text is intertwined with Irish folk music), the story is dense, moving with engaging characters… It comes as no surprise it impressed Maija Sydänmaanlakka (singer, actor) and Hannu Matti Tyhtilä (director) who started to jointly work on the dramatization of their upcoming project. The “Leonard Cohen” chemistry also extended to AP Sarjanto, THE Finnish specialist of Irish music, who brought his magic touch going through the book’s numerous songs and musical references – subtracting and adding some to the original text (also translating the text) and Tommi Viksten – one of Finland’s finest guitarists – who adapted the original scores to a tailor-made ensemble that performs them on stage.
This ensemble comprises several typically Celtic instruments (mandolins, Irish bouzouki, Irish harp) alongside the classical guitars, piano and violins other musicians in the band play (Kalle Penttilä, Tuula Penttilä, Tom Nyman). As a result, the musical part of this play is absolutely stunning and covers a repertoire going from church music to folk music, and coming across some American standards – such as Billie Holiday http://youtu.be/IAR4aEtaH4c that nurture the author’s desire to return to America, the promised land of his early childhood (“She is singing for me, only for me” says (young) Mc Court character listening to her music).
Because “Seitsemännen portaan enkeli” is a musical theatre piece and not a musical, the acted part constitutes a substantial portion of it and 5 actors embody 30 punchy characters revolving around McCourt’s. Aleksi Aromaa is particularly remarkable in the role of young McCourt as well as Liisa Peltonen who at times only has 30 seconds to move from one role to another.
Maija Sydänmaanlakka – an ardent defender of the “musiikkinäytelmä” genre – explains that “the type of play we perform is more like “kansanteatteri” that we could translate by “folk theatre”, something very casual, very natural flowing from the Finnish tradition of the “tukkijoki” and mixing it into a form of modern musical theatre. We are on the other side of the spectrum from American musicals, that are often built around songs with a minimal consideration for the overall story. Starting from such powerful book as McCourt’s, ensured the characters and the story were dense, multilayered”.
Hämeenlinna is only one hour drive from Helsinki and it is likely that the warmth of this company and play will touch your heart – and that some Guiness/whisky/dark tea on the top (your choice) will bring you through the night! (Saint-Patrick’s special performance: 17th March 2012)
Show dates&booking: http://www.hmlteatteri.fi/kaikki-esitykset
Text: Ruxandra Balboa-Pöysti