Wednesday, 22 July 2015

The Hare of Dramaturgy: Ryhmäteatteri @ Edfringe

A Human comedy
Freely based on the novel by Arto Paasilinna

The people who brought you the award-winning hit plays The Overcoat – A Comedy of Working life and Continuous growth – A Comedy about Productivity (2012 Scotsman Fringe First Award winner) at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2011 and 2012, now bring you: The Year of The Hare – A Human comedy.

The Year of The Hare is freely based on the novel by Arto Paasilinna and it’s originally written by Esa Leskinen, Sami Keski-Vähälä and Kristian Smeds. Catherine Grosvenor has adapted the play from the translation from the Finnish by Nely Keinänen. The play is directed by Aleksis Meaney.

Cast: David McKay, Kim Allan, Sarah McCardie and Martin Docherty who won Factual for Marty Goes To Hollywood at British Academy Scotland New Talent Awards 2015.

Vatanen (David McKay) is middle-aged, middle-class, and works 12-hour days in his office cubicle, the highlights of his life long passed. However, an absurd chance encounter with an eccentric Hare (Kim Allan) re-awakens his lust for life, and suddenly Vatanen finds himself – along with his unlikely traveling companion – on an epic and surreal road trip
through a world with rules and values he can no longer accept or understand, and during which the lines between dreams, reality, fantacy and insanity become blurred. The quest is to find some meaning in existence– no matter how much mayhem will be caused in the process.

Pleasance KingDome (23) DATE: 5th Aug – 31st Aug (not 17 & 24th)
18:45 (20:00)

What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object? 
ALEKSIS MEANEY: The idea for doing a new adaptation of the play “The Year of the Hare” at the Fringe with the Ryhmäteatteri was born from my desire to close what I like to call “The Scottish Trilogy” of Plays by Esa Leskinen and Sami Keski-Vähälä, following the award winning plays “The Overcoat” in 2011 and “Continuous Growth” in 2012. Esa Leskinen had already put forward to me the suggestion that I should direct “The Year of the Hare” at some unspecified theatre. The concept all came together in the autumn of 2014, when I had the idea of pitching a brand new adaptation of the play (by Catherine Grosvenor) to the “From Start to Finnish” project at the Edinburgh Fringe.

At this point it might be worth noting that the play itself (and therefore the new adaptation as well) is freely based on Arto Paasilinna's classic novel The Year of the Hare, which has become one of the cornerstones of Finnish 20th century literature, and is included on the UNESCO list of representative works of world literature.

The desire to do “The Year of the Hare” was also born from the wish to have a chance to work again with Catherine Grosvenor (who also did the adaptation work for the two earlier plays of the trilogy), as well as – more or less- the same cast I had already worked with on the previous plays. 

Perhaps a more appropriate word at this point of our multi-year collaboration would actually be ensemble, which has in the past included Billy Mack, Sarah
McCardie, Martin Docherty, Tom Freeman, Simon McCallum and Karen Fishwick. This year I will be working again with Sarah McCardie and Martin Docherty, with David McKay and Kim Allan joining our ensemble. So The Year of the Hare will feature a cast of four actors.

Why bring your work to Edinburgh?
ALEKSIS MEANEY: New Finnish playwriting is going through something of a renaissance at the moment, with great new plays being staged constantly. I'm not sure of the exact figures, but I reckon that we are one of the top countries in Europe in this respect, in relation to our population size (5 million). I feel very strongly that Finnish play-writing should – and deserves to be – showcased at the Edinburgh Fringe. 

Finnish plays have already had great success elsewhere in Europe, with playwrights the likes of Mika Myllyaho, Saara Turunen, Sofi Oksanen and Laura Ruohonen being constantly staged all across Central and Southern Europe. My desire is to show the UK audience the unique style of Finnish theatre that has now taken form in theatres all across Finland, but especially in Helsinki.

For me personally (as a director of both Finnish and Scottish descent), it was also important to get yet another the chance to work in Scotland with Scottish artists and put on a performance which would reflect the collaboration of talents from these two countries with somewhat different traditions of theatre.

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
ALEKSIS MEANEY: The audience can expect to see the world premiere of a brand new adaptation of the play “The Year of the Hare” (originally by Esa Leskinen, Sami Keski-vähälä and Kristian Smeds), and experience a riotous story of liberation and madness that deals with the zeitgeist of the times we live in, as well as many of the social issues that affect our daily lives. The play also deals with the relationship between man and nature – more specifically, how economic interests are destroying our natural environment. At some point, something's got to give, or we will reach a point from which there is no longer a possibility to return. This is a nightmare scenario, which none of us would wish to see.

I expect the audience to laugh and be moved by the emotional and very relatable story of our protagonist Vatanen (David McKay), as his life takes a very unexpected turn after encountering an eccentric Hare (Kim Allan), with Sarah McCardie and Martin Docherty creating the madness of the world they (and we) inhabit around them. I hope that the show will be entertaining, but also highly thought provoking. 

As with all theatre, it's impact on the audience should be that as they walk out of the theatre, they will be moved to see the world – even if just for a moment – in a different way and with new eyes. Maybe, our dreams can be just as real to us as our daily lives, only in a slightly different way.

*The Dramaturgy Questions*

How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work? (and I think that this entails the following questions as well )
CATHERINE GROSVENOR: I’m taking dramaturgy to refer to the process by which we get to understand the nature of a play. It’s part dissection and part art appreciation. Both are essential to what I did for this piece.  

I adapted a play that was written in a language I don’t speak and in a culture I don’t know particularly well. I used a literal translation which was in American English to come up with a version for the Fringe that works for Scottish actors and lets a UK audience experience a little piece of Finland.

Adapting someone else’s work is a process that brings all sorts of different tasks and challenges, depending on the qualities of the original text and the context the adaptation is meant for. In this case, I had two main tasks: to shorten a two-and-a-half-hour show into one hour and fifteen, condensing the number of actors from 6 to 4 and getting rid of the live video storytelling as I went; and to present a version of the play that stayed true to its Finnish setting but would be understandable to a UK audience.

To cut so much and not lose the meaning, you have to get to the essence of the piece. A lot of the words and some of the steps might go, but as long as the essence of the story stays the same, you’re fine. This is a big chunk of dramaturgical work for me – reading, reading, reading again, noting, making sense of it, getting to know the structure and the most significant moments. Post it notes, highlighters, lists….

I ran a few big things past the original playwright Esa Leskinen– what the character of Hare represented to him; whether the Sacrificer character was the same as the God of Destruction… this led us on to a big discussion about Nietzsche which was new ground for me but key to Esa’s ideas about the piece. A lot of brain-stretching later, I understood exactly what Esa was driving at, so I could condense a very lengthy section into a few pages. The form is very different from the original, but the effect is the same.

Fortunately Esa is extremely generous with his time and his characters, and is happy for me to take his work and do what I like with it. It’s a different attitude to the writer-based UK model. His work is much more about the ensemble of the theatre – the contribution of the other writers, other texts, the actors, the team in the theatre - his company’s called Ryhmäteatteri (Group Theatre in English) after all. I think he’d see this adaptation process as a whole new life for the piece he co-created for a specific setting. He sets it free and is very open to seeing how it might change for a new setting. I really value that.

I also ran a thousand questions past Nely Keinanen, the literal translator. Why did the the salesgirl in part two “look like she’d just stepped out of a Dove commercial”? Are Dove adverts in Finland and Britain the same? Was the salesgirl meant to be size fourteen and naked? 

Turns out the original line said something like “like she’d just stepped out of a porridge oats commercial”. Nely sent me a link to the artwork – think Scots porridge oats but with a wholesome-looking woman instead. It was a close call for that salesgirl in part two but she made it into my version with her wholesomeness intact.

The director Aleksis Meaney kept me right on Finnish geography and the time the sun sets in Lapland in June (it doesn’t) and then I just had to find the right words to let Scottish actors play Finnish ravens and my job was done.

The Year of The Hare is a riotous and anarchic, but ultimately touching comedy about nature and human beings living together in a rapidly changing world with more and more problems but seemingly fewer and fewer solutions.

The Ryhmäteatteri is Finland’s oldest independent theatre company and significant culturalproducer in the capital region. The theatre takes special pride in promoting new domestic playwrights and from the very beginning the driving force behind the theatre has been its actors.

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