BWW Review: VIHAINEN LESKI (THE ANGRY WIDOW) at Helsinki City Theatre
Based on Minna Lindgren's book Vihainen Leski (the Angry Widow).
Dramaturg by Henna Piirto
Director Kimmo Virtanen
Set Design Katariina Kirjavainen
Costume Design Elina Vättö
Choreography Jari Saarelainen
Lighting Design Mika Ijäs and Petteri Heiskanen
Sound Deisgn Jaakko Autio
Makeup Jutta Kainulainen
First impression: The set design by Katariina Kirjavainen is neat and the lights turn on up slowly. We see Ullis (Riitta Havukainen) at her fine apartment in Espoo, making phonecalls to her elderly friends and cousins. Soon her friend Pike (Pia Runnakko) invites her to a club where she and Hellu (Eija Vilpas) party.
As said in the program, the comedy comes from the fact that these elderly people are treated like elderly people.
I myself am a 22-year-old woman, but nevertheless the performance kept me in a grasp and curiosity till the beautiful end!
The play is full of nice details I very much enjoyed, details that keep the audience awake, for example how the rhythm of the heard song stays on in the hair salon by the means of the hairdressers' equipments; How the mystery man, Kari Krijosiipi, who pays for Ulli's cloakroom fee throws glitter even when just walking off stage; And how things creepingly escalate at the dementia department of the elderly home.
The most touching role must be by Eija Vilpas as Hellu. Her positive attitude and comments throughout the show made the audience love her through the final scene and monologue too, which was one of the best parts of the performance.
I think that the beginning and the setting of the story was rather quick. If one didn't know the plot beforehand, the fact that Ullis has just recently become a widow was known in an abrupt place-- at the club. We hadn't the time to make an emotional connection with her. Henna Piirto, the dramaturg of the play tells in the program: "At the beginning of the play Ullis as if digs herself up from the mental bunker she's been in all those decades: she approaches life on earth, full of wonder, as if an alien". I so much would have wanted to see those things Piirto explained of, but unfortunately that part lacked the timing and emotional layering it would have needed for a greater effect.
The heart-warming conversations Hellu and Ullis had at the Yoga place was well done. Overall, how comedic attention is gained as everyone else has their heads down, but Ullis raises her own up for a comment. Nice! Eija Vilpas earned the mid-applauses of the fart-orgasm joke... I also loved the way the mystical Kari Kirjosiipi (Kari Mattila) pays the cloakroom fee. Theatrical magic!
The scene where Ullis and Valtonen (Kai Lehtinen) walk in the park and Ullis goes to the merry-go-round-- that moment was very beautiful! I was so sad that she rose up from it so soon. I also wonder about the usage of Olli as a character in the flesh (Vesa Wallgren). The beginning was promising as he comes up from the box as if from his grave and goes on to sit in his old chair. But then wanders away. Bringing Olli on stage was a powerful decision and should have been used more imaginatively. I would have wanted to see him sit in the chair as Ullis tells to Valtonen about him. Valtonen could have done other things and "not see him" meanwhile. The same goes with the end, Olli has too little stage time. And I was surprised that he didn't appear the-- holy number of storytelling and other timings-- three times.
The same kind of rich imagination that was used in the fantasising scenes of Kari Kirjosiipi I would have wanted to see in Olli, even as mute as he was. There could have been great scenic images by these two extremes of Ulli's history and future on stage; fantasy and ordinary, a wish and a burden, Kari and Olli.
Especially as Kari sang with Ullis the You're the one that I want -song and stayed peeking from behind the windows, that scene I very much liked. And before that when he was almost kissed on top of the backrest of the couch, which informed itself that this part is fantasy. Very good! And the horrors of the dementia department, how the characters changed in a split second. And how its lights turn off bits by bits. Nice lighting design anyways, Mika Ijäs and Petteri Heiskanen, as usual what it comes to Ijäs at least.
All in all Vihainen Leski (the Angry Widow) is a fine play that teaches even the younger generation like me what it is like to be older. To me it told the most about friendships, how dreaming goes on in the older days too, and letting go of the past.