Saturday, April 06, 2013

August Strindberg: Spöksonaten / The Ghost Sonata (Turku City Theatre, director and translator Juha Siltanen)

August Strindberg: Spöksonaten / The Ghost Sonata. SE 1907. I read the translation by Jouko Turkka and Maija-Liisa Turkka in the volume August Strindberg: Pelikaani, Talo on palanut, Aavesonaatti [The Pelican, The Burned House, The Ghost Sonata] (Pelikanen, Brända tomten, Spöksonaten). Helsinki: Love Kirjat, 1984.

Turun kaupunginteatteri: Sopukka / Turku City Theatre: The Nook, 6 April 2013
August Strindberg: Aavesonaatti / The Ghost Sonata, translated by Juha Siltanen
D: Juha Siltanen, AD: Markus Tsokkinen, Cost: Tuomas Lampinen, Lighting design: Jarmo Esko, Make-up: Anna Nurminen, Stage manager: Esa Lindfors, Property man: Nora Eriksson, C: Pekka Laiho (Gubben / The Old Man, director Hummel), Markus Riuttu (The Student, Arkenholz), Laura Eriksson (The Milkmaid, a vision), Ulla Koivuranta (Portvakterskan / The Concierge's wife), Kimmo Rasila (The Concierge), Ari Piispa (Den Döde / The Dead Man, a consul), Riitta Selin (Den Mörka Damen / The Lady in Black, daughter of the dead man), Juhani Niemelä (The Colonel), Eila Halonen (Mumien / The Mummy, the colonel's wife), Mervi Takatalo (The Young Lady, the colonel's daughter, is the Old Man's daughter), Jukka Soila (Den Förnäme / His Excellency, called Baron Skanskorg, betrothed with the Concierge's daughter), Kimmo Rasila (Johansson, Hummel's servant), Ari Piispa (Bengtsson, the colonel's valet / betjänt), Marja Pesonen (The Fiancée, previously engaged to Hummel, a white-haired old lady), Ulla Reinikainen (The Cook), Ulla Reinikainen (The Maid). Beggars. 140 min with a coffee break.

There is background music almost for the entire duration of the performance (Beethoven, Wagner, J. Strauss, Jr., etc.). Arnold Böcklin's painting Die Toteninsel / Isle of the Dead (1880-1886) features prominently.

The handbill is a valuable souvenir programme. There are two forewords by Juha Siltanen, poems by Juhan Viiding, Henry Parland, and Katri Vala, reproductions of paintings by August Strindberg and Arnold Böcklin, introductions to the phenomena of the sonata form, chamber music, the chamber play and the intimate theatre, and keys to the symbols of the hyacinth, the house, and the vampire.

In his first foreword Juha Siltanen reminds us that The Ghost Sonata is a fascinating enigma which has been cited as a precursor of expressionism, absurdism, and existentialism. Plays like The Ghost Sonata are beyond watertight analysis. Perhaps it is "a dream about a play". In his second foreword Siltanen writes that perhaps what was a theatre of the dream in Strindberg's age is everyday realism in our present. Siltanen also confesses that first after a third of a century of occupying himself with the work he has discovered its point which had kept bothering him and which is full of joy, horror, and stimulating energy. What are the ghosts? Perhaps people who are afraid to die become afraid to live. Perhaps all the characters are ghosts except one.

Siltanen also pays attention to the first words of the text of the play, the description of the location: "nedra botten och en trappa upp av en modärn husfasad" - the basement and the first floor of the facade of a modern building. A page of the handbill is devoted to its model and inspiration, a building Strindberg called The Blue Tower (Drottninggatan 85, Stockholm), now the address of Strindbergsmuseet.
An inspired performance. The Ghost Sonata is a play with rich possibilities for different concepts. This vision of Juha Siltanen and his ensemble is compelling. The dream mode is consistent. I like the balance of the macabre and the comedy for instance in the performance of Kimmo Rasila. I also like the balance of horror and tenderness in the interpretation of Mervi Takatalo.

It occurred to me that it would be interesting to see a Paul Thomas Anderson interpretation of The Ghost Sonata, because also here we have a dubious father figure and a confused young searcher figure.

If Tim Burton would direct it he might want to discover young counterparts to Johnny Depp for The Student and Helena Bonham Carter for the Colonel's Daughter.

I was also thinking about Luis Buñuel (The Exterminating Angel), Ingmar Bergman (The Hour of the Wolf), Alfred Hitchcock (Psycho), and the Marx Brothers (Animal Crackers). I ended up thinking about the entire history of the horror movies, because this play is full of ghosts, vampires, and mummies. It can also be seen as a zombie story about "a night of the living dead". Probably there was no direct Strindberg influence in the genesis of the cinematic horror genre, but The Ghost Sonata belonged to the repertory of Max Reinhardt in Berlin, which was a central inspiration to various trends of the German cinema, including both the Expressionist and the Kammerspiel trends.

Strindberg, together with André Antoine and Max Reinhardt, was one of the inventors of a new kind of theatre. They reinvented the theatre as a stage of interiority, a stage for dreams, and a stage of the soul in their dream plays, chamber plays, and intimate theatres. The joy of invention was revived in today's performance.

I tried to figure out what the special point mentioned by Juha Siltanen might be, and I do not know the answer, but for me The Ghost Sonata is a warning that if we live in a dream world we turn to ghosts. Strindberg urges us to wake up.

The contemporary vampiristic overtones were not hinted at in this performance (in the fashion of David Cronenberg who cast Robert Pattinson, the Twilight star, in Cosmopolis), and there was no need to. Watching the Old Man spinning his webs for his victims I could not help thinking about global financial fraud, the recent exposés of the tax paradises of Cyprus and the Virgin Islands, the Swiss bank account of the French minister of finances who was supposed to be in charge of stopping tax evasion, and the torment of the current Finnish government in its attempt to revise dividend taxation.

It was a sunny winter day in Turku. On our way to the theatre we crossed the frozen Aura River via a flower bridge and after the performance, on our way to the night bus to Helsinki, we passed a giant spider web installation next to the theatre.

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