Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Coming Up Roses? What, in Finland?

The clichés of Irish theatre are presented to us (it sometimes seems) on a daily basis, but when it comes to slightly more remote theatrical traditions, even the everyday stuff can be mysterious. For example, despite all our International theatre festivals over the years it will not be until this week that Ireland will see its first ever Finnish theatre premiere.

But rather surprisingly, the show in question, Coming Up Roses, by the Finnish playwright-director-translator, Juha Siltanen, is set in Dublin, in Bewley’s Café, no less.

“The reason I decided to set the play in Bewley's was simply that I fell in love with the place,” says Siltanen. “Not only because it really is a lovely room but also because it's a theatre in the deepest sense of the word, a place where something - maybe something historical - might happen.”

His previous experience of Irish drama, as a translator of Marie Jones’ "Women at the verge of HRT" into Finnish had already convinced him that Ireland could be counted on to throw up the expected. He found, for example, translating that play rather tricky.

“…not because of the language but because of the strange feeling of nostalgia that was woven into the structure of the play - a feeling I sensed but couldn't imitate. I think I understood it only in last February when I asked the reception of the Fitzsimons Hotel to tell me the way to the nearest bookshop. I followed the instructions but found nothing but pubs and garages. I was simply fascinated.”

Continuing the trend, the unexpected has also dogged his first ever Bewley’s show. Top of the shocks was discovering that with the premises’ renovation work behind schedule, he was faced more with a building site, than a theatre. So instead of beginning performances at the Grafton Street venue, Siltanen and company were forced to find an alternative venue for the show’s previews.

The Gaiety Theatre stepped in and obliged with a home for the initial performances, before cast and crew, and hopefully audience, finally get to see the play in its proper location.

Finalising those arrangement allowed Siltanen, who is also directing his own play, to concentrate once more on the show, which although it is set in that little part of Dublin that will be forever Bewley’s has concerns that reach out across the continent.

“Coming Up Roses is a play about trying not to remember and having to deal with one's reluctance to go to the very end, a play about pretending, that is,” he says.

“Europe, to my mind, is a fruitful entity based on strangeness and fear, not on the overwhelming feeling of togetherness we are forced to simulate. Humiliation is a great source of self-confidence, and that's what every dream of ultra-unity is trying to deprive of us.”

But while he is busy trying to find theatrical forms for questions about the new Europe, Siltanen has also been pondering the idea of the “lunchtime theatre” tradition into which Coming Up Roses takes him and his Pori-based, Rakastajat Theatre Company

“What I like in the idea of "lunchtime" theatre is that you can always be happy with the soup, and then there's a bonus,” says Siltanen.

“If the soup is bad, you can always hope that the play's ok. And vice versa. If the play's not, for the writer it means that there's going to be no lunch for the next three months.”

Bewley’s Café Theatre, Grafton Street, Dublin, Monday 30th, 2005

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