If I didn’t live in England I’d say being introduced to a country by its most native type of theatre would be a good thing. Not because English theatre is bad – it isn’t, we have some great theatre – but because pantomime productions are supposed to be inherently British. Going to one to gain an understanding of British culture is a mistake, in my opinion. Because as far as I’m concerned there isn’t a more uncomfortable audience experience than one requiring participation with the unfunny.
On the other hand, being thrown into a sort of Finnish equivalent of panto, complete with a walking vagina, was a pretty excellent introduction to Finland, even though I had absolutely no idea what was going on. Because vagina. There were subtitles that translated what the actors were saying, live – but nobody can translate improvised theatre that fast, so a lot of the time there were witty remarks on the screen like; ‘NOW THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT POLITICS.’
From what I could gather, the man wearing chain mail and representing Bacchus was highlighting the perceived attitude men have historically had to women – that women are sexual objects. This went some way toward explaining why one of the two female actors was dressed as a vagina – (she was representing all that the central male character thought about when he looked at her).
There were parts where Bacchus walked into the crowd and talked a lot. The audience laughed a lot. And the personified vagina eventually got sick of being just a vagina, and with the help of the other female actor went to rip it off. Here the subtitles really came into their own;
Personified vagina: “will it hurt a lot?”
Non-personified vagina: “C***loads.”
After the show, some of the theatre festival team took me out for drinks on a boat called Suvi in the Tampere harbour. We talked about whether or not humour is translatable, while drinking Hard Lemon. Then talked about who lives on the Finnish Islands, what the Finnish word for wasp is (ampiainen), and what it’s like to study English Literature in Finland.
Over the next couple of days in Tampere I visited Moomin Land at the city art gallery, with its small collection of original Moomin drawings and Moomin House. I saw a woman called Tia Cohen doing an impersonation of Edith Piaf in the red-and-white striped tent in the central square and took the bus to one of the saunas for my first Finnish Sauna experience – a swim in one of the expansive tree-lined lakes and a sit on a wooden board in the heat of the sauna, with a sauna elf. And of course I was taken out for more drinks until late by the ever-hospitable Finns.
There is a sightseeing tour in Tampere too. Theatre friends informed me that Tampere is nicknamed Mansch because it is called ‘the Manchester of Finland’ due to its ties with industry and geographical position in the country. The tour went a way to explaining the history and geography of the region with the tour leader announcing the tour would be in ‘Finnglish.’ I’d seen the gigantic statues on the bridge by sculptor Wäinö Aaltonen, the Tax Collector, the Finnish Maiden, the Tradesman and the Hunter. Now I was taken past Frecknell, the first factory paper mill and told about the the factory workers who had worked from the age of eight, the 168m tower in the city, old wooden church in the town centre and my favourite part, Pispala – where factory workers built their own houses freestyle in about the 20s and 30s on hilly forest land that overlooks the water.
I also saw street performers Les Dudes standing on bicycle handlebars and each other and throwing fire. Plus two more plays, one called ‘The Crazy Locomotive,’ that I needed a lie down after (too much crazy), and the other, called ‘NOIR?’ a dance foray into what it means to be black, from a black Finn’s perspective. Of the four black performers, the three dancers are the only professional black Finnish Dancers in existence. Themes of ‘blackploitation’ were explored through a dance to a remix of the soul-wrenching song ‘Strange Fruit’ in the beginning before the performance became more darkly comic – at one point the choreographer donning a blonde wig and dancing about the stage to Lil B’s ‘Paris Hilton’ (“Bitch I’m Paris Hilton, Paris Hilton…”) the choreographer explained, “If you’re black or a woman you’re always labelled – there would never be a random black cast in Finland. But we don’t want to teach people, we just want to share our experience. There’s not a common black experience in Finland – there is no common blackness.”
I loved the warmth and hospitality I found in Tampere. The Tampere Theatre Festival was a wonderful way to get a feel for Finnish culture while having enough time to explore the city and the things that made it.
London to Finland by train and ferry
My journey from London to Tampere:
- £39 one way Eurostar ticket London to Brussels booked just over two weeks in advance
- A 10 days in 22 Interrail pass kindly provided to me by Interrail.eu. A standard adult pass for 10 days in 22 costs €339 (£271) or €534 (£425) for first class. Be careful to purchase only what you need, as in the end I could have gone for a 5 days in 10 pass, which would have cost €239 (£191) in standard or €375 (£300) in first class
- I made reservations on all the trains I needed to take to get to Stockholm through International Rail. The reservations cost £57 in total, for all the trains as far as Stockholm. I didn’t need to make all those reservations (although you do have to with high speed or overnight trains for the pass to be valid), but it would be taking a chance on delays not to, especially on the German trains which were very full
- The Viking line overnight ferry was €70 (£56) for the budget four bed dorm, so if I’d had three friends it would have been just £14 each (instead I could play Goldilocks with all four).
- There was no need to make reservations for trains in Finland
Total = £357
Point-to-point London to Tampere would look something like this…
- £39 for my one way Eurostar ticket London to Brussels
- Brussels to Cologne from £41.50
- Cologne to Hamburg from £79
- Hamburg to Odense via Hoeje Taastrup from £71
- Odense to Copenhagen from £35
- Copenhagen to Malmo £12
- Malmo to Stockholm, £42.50
- Viking overnight ferry Stockholm to Turku, £56
- Turku to Tampere from £23
Total = 399