- Kuningas Lear [King Lear]
Given how infrequently King Lear is performed in Finland, there was understandable enthusiasm in Helsinki when it was announced that the director/playwright Reko Lundán would direct the play on the main stage of the Finnish National Theater, with Esko Salminen in the lead role. In addition to his work in film and television, Salminen is known as a Shakespearean actor, having most recently played Prospero (1995) and Falstaff (2003) at the National Theater. Lundán's production examined what happens to individuals when they are forsaken by the gods, left alone, capable only of treachery and cruelty. Although Lundán also [End Page 68] said in the program notes that the aim of tragedy is catharsis, building a bridge from suffering to solace, I was not completely convinced that this production managed to build that bridge. But still, there was much to admire.
Since its first production in 1886, King Lear has been performed sixteen times by professional theatre companies in Finland, making it the least performed of Shakespeare's major tragedies (compare Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet with 58 professional productions each, followed by Othello with 30 and Macbeth with 23). The play was produced only sporadically in the 1910s, 30s, and 50s (with no performances in the 20s, 40s and 60s), but since the 1970s has appeared somewhat more regularly. Influential productions include one by the director Kalle Holmberg at the Turku City Theater in 1972, which was influenced by Peter Brook, and another by Jotaarkka Pennanen at the Finnish National Theater in 1983, a powerful and visual modern production, which included an auditorium built around the back of the stage where the 'characters' retreated to watch the rest of the play (and the audience) after they had died. In 1998, Teatteri Jurkka, the leading black-box theatre in Helsinki, staged an experimental Lear directed by Petteri Sallinen, where five actors took on fourteen roles, playing on an empty stage. Lear was played by Pentti Siimes, who had come out of semi-retirement to take on the role; one reviewer reported that she had never seen such a cruel and sarcastic Lear. This production also experimented with cross-gender casting, sometimes to quite good effect: the lone actress played Regan, Cordelia, and Edmund, while a male actor took on Goneril along with Edgar and Kent.
Reko Lundán brought to Lear a stark, modern sensibility, familiar to Finns from Lundán's own work as a playwright, most recently in his trilogy on the Finnish welfare state: (Tarpeettomia ihmisiä [Unnecessary People], Ihmisiä hyvinvointivaltiossa [People in a Welfare State], and Aina joku eksyy [Someone Always Gets Lost]. Two key decisions shaped this production: first, he set the play in a kind of Finnish minimalist fantasy of modern-day Britain, complete with cell phones and golf courses. Second, he used a physical, rugged translation by Juha Siltanen, one of Finland's leading translators, commissioned especially for this production.
For a non-Finnish-speaking audience, it's difficult to describe the qualities of Siltanen's translation. Lear was first translated into Finnish in 1883 by Paavo Cajander, who from 1879 until his death in 1913 translated all of Shakespeare's plays except Pericles (for some 20 of Shakespeare's plays, Cajander's is still the only Finnish translation). Cajander's translations are known for their lyrical, poetic qualities. The most recent major [End Page 69] translation is by Matti Rossi, a well...