A bumpy, unpaved road veers away from the busy highway connecting Turku and the neighbouring Lieto. Gradually, the noises of traffic are left behind as an iconic view of the Finnish countryside opens right before my eyes. Yellow grain fields and lush green forests of pine and spruce basking in the warmth of the summer sun frame the road on both sides, while the Aura River adds further allure to the image, weaving its way through the landscape, reflecting the vibrant blue of the sky overhead. In the face of such tranquility, it is difficult to believe that I’m a mere 8 kilometres from the Turku city centre. No matter how many times I come here, it still feels like a welcome break from my everyday life.
Along this road and by the river, at the foot of an impressive rocky hill that used to house a prehistoric defensive fort, lies Liedon Vanhalinna- an old estate of vast historical and cultural significance. This is also the stage for Turku Student Theatre‘s 2018 summer production, Sudenmorsian (The Wolf’s Bride), which I have had the pleasure of acting in. The play is based on a classic Finnish novel of the same name, written by Aino Kallas in 1928 and set in a small village on a remote Estonian island in the 1600s. It is the story of the dutiful wife and mother Aalo, who cannot resist following the wolves who beckon her into a nearby forest on a midsummer night, when the boundary between this world and the next is at its thinnest and the powers of magic at their strongest. A forest demon offers her a taste of freedom such as she has never known before, and she is turned into a werewolf. From that fateful night onward, she spends her nights running free with the wolves and her days diligently helping her beloved husband Priidik around the house and taking care of their only child. However, as rumours about her double life start to spread in her home village, she is forced to make an agonising choice between two worlds that are both equally dear to her– her home and her family, or the forest and all of its freedoms?
This performance by Turku Student Theatre is significant because the scenes are set in various places around the Vanhalinna estate, and two narrators (of which I am one) guide the audience from one scene to another. Many of the scenes take place outside in the surrounding nature, while the attic of an old wooden stable serves as Aalo and Priidik’s home- the only instance of a traditional stage setup in the whole performance. The poignant juxtaposition between Aalo’s two natures– the well-mannered wife and the wild wolf– takes on a physical dimension. Outside the attic, the traditional separation between the performers and the audience diminishes, as the audience walks through the scenes happening in front of or around them. This adds to the immersion into the world of the story, and lets the audience experience some of the freedom that Aalo experiences while roaming the forests as a wolf. The sounds of the surrounding nature, such as the rustling of the leaves in the wind, also become a part of the show.
As a performer in this production, I feel that nature’s constant changes also add an interesting dimension to the show. Sometimes it almost seems as if nature is playing as big a part in the performance as we actors are, if not one that’s even bigger. For example, at one show the rumbling of thunder and a viciously strong wind accented a dramatic moment in the story with such incredible timing that it left both the actors and audience alike in deep awe. Furthermore, it has felt significant to witness the grain on the surrounding fields grow and ripen, as I have simultaneously grown more into my own role. By now most of the grain has already been harvested, as summer starts to give way to autumn, but our work and growth still continues for the six fully booked shows we have remaining.