Atlantis. A play by Juha Mustanoja. Production dramaturge: Outi Lahtinen. Director: Juha Mustanoja. Scenography and props: Anne Karttunen. Costumes: Noora Salmi. Lighting designer: Pietu Pietiäinen. Music: Juuso Voltti. Sound designer: Maura Korhonen. Film: Jyri Hakala. Special effects: Mats Hästbacka. Makeup artist: Kaija Heijari. Actors: Sanna Hietala, Paul Holländer, Miko Kivinen, Leea Klemola, Jussi Lehtonen, Karin Pacius, Antti L. J. Pääkkönen, Vilma Putro, Nora Raikamo.
A collaboration of Aurinkoteatteri and the Finnish National Theatre, premiered on the Small stage of the National Theatre, Helsinki, April 12, 2018.
On the mythical island of Atlantis, according to Plato, the inhabitants of the paradisiacal universe originally lived peacefully, in wealth and abundance, until greed and lust for military supremacy gradually began to corrupt the Atlanteans. Finally, the island and the once ideal society catastrophically vanished into the depths of the ocean.
The opening scene of Atlantis (“a tragic tragedy”) at the National Theatre is impressive and highly original: six colourfully clad, bearded creatures appear on the stage vigorously banging on tin drums––in the shape of poisonous mushrooms––to the hypnotically tautological Bolero by Ravel.
Next, we are informed by two trolls, named Kontrolli and Roketrolli (“Controll” and “Rocketroll,” Jussi Lehtonen and Vilma Putro, who turn out to be the narrators of the story), that the globe is a giant jingle bell, inside of which trolls and hard-working, serious and simple-minded drumming dwarves live. In the nucleus of this spherical land of Soria Moria––the name is borrowed from a 19th-century Norwegian fairy tale––lies a fiery sun, a hot blob of gold, that lights and warms the inside of the bell. The dwarves are perfectly content with spending their days digging tunnels and drumming, each specializing in various materials: water, lava, gas, stones, mushrooms, crystals.
No universe, however, exists without wielders of power. The drumming in the realm of dwarves and trolls is disciplined by a relentless, frustrated conductor: Alvis, the Great Sorcerer, who finds fault with their performance and demands improvement. The scared dwarves, in furious attempts to find ways to correct their mistakes, happen to invent science.
They learn how to forge metals and make gold, and, as they proceed to find a way to create plutonium and napalm, without a clue as to how to master their technology, it also becomes fairly evident to the spectator that an enormous catastrophe is shortly looming large. After a big bang the trolls, the dwarves and Alvis find themselves living on the bottom of the ocean––miraculously adapting to the marine environment.
The troll Alvis herself (Leea Klemola: her white-clad, antlered, black-eyed appearance suits very well this hugely bad-tempered, parodic drama queen) relies on the advice of demons, such as Harpy, Minotaur and Argos, whose scary outlines are just barely discernible in the dramatic darkness. The grimmest of them all is the mighty super-demon Kraken: just his giant eyes are visible, glowing high on the stage wall. (He is introduced in the programme via Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem from 1830 which draws its image from a Norse legend of a sea-monster.)
Kraken––who speaks in a hilariously thick Ostrobothnian accent, which is one of the innumerable comical details of the production; could this perhaps be a hint at certain Finnish politicians?––strongly opposes universal, free access to knowledge and science.
Aurinkoteatteri, founded in 1989, is a group of theatremakers aiming at creating “politically incorrect” theatre. Its artistic director Leea Klemola is playwright and actor, Juha Mustanoja works as playwright and director. Aurinkoteatteri (“Sun theatre”) is a member of the umbrella organisation Universum, along with the theatre groups named Sirius, Mars and Venus. In 2017, Aurinkoteatteri was awarded the Finnish Thalia Prize for their 2015 production Maa-Tuska (untranslatable: maatuska[-nukke]= matryoshka [doll], maa=earth, tuska=pain), set in Siberia, as was their Baikal Brothers L.P., in 2017.
The jingle-bell universe is a meticulously complete, tongue-in-cheek construction, both in theory and practice. Scenography and lighting are richly detailed, costumes and props wittily hilarious. The music consists of both original compositions and amusing hints of Strauss and Grieg, for example, and the dwarves prove they can sing too––and as brief extra performances, Alvis plays the flute, Roketrolli the trumpet.
A clip of the sun in rehearsals:
This fantastically colorful fairy tale for grown-ups mixes references to Plato and Aristotle, Greek tragedy masks with those from The Star Wars, Scandinavian with Tolkienesque mythology, and crazy comedy with serious undertones of the theme “knowledge is power.”
In the programme, the writer and director Juha Mustanoja reminds the reader of the fact that the current wielders of Finnish political power have made cuts in the funding of education. Equal rights to education is a prerequisite of equality, and realization of democracy is guaranteed only when a citizen is fully informed and aware of the significance and consequences of his vote. If education and science become commercialized and eliticized, if the access to knowledge is not open to all, nothing will be left of the constitutional state, Mustanoja concludes.
In the end, Alvis perishes, but the dwarves survive; however, what they are left with of the whole dwarf civilization recorded in writing is just one book––the work on comedy by Aristotle (the surviving first part of his Poetics focuses on tragedy). Under the starry sky (of the European Union!), the ensemble starts heartily singing the prelude of Te Deum by the Baroque composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier, now universally known as the signature tune of the European Broadcasting Company EBU’s Eurovision events. Knowledge reigns supreme; it belongs to every one of us!
*Soila Lehtonen is a journalist and theatre critic, and the former Editor-in-Chief of the online literary journal Books from Finland (www.booksfromfinland.fi). She is an Honorary Vice-President of IATC-AICT.