In pursuit of a conscience

19 March 2012 | Drama, Fiction

‘An unflinching opera and a hot-blooded cantata about a time when the church was torn apart, Finland was divided and gays stopped being biddable’: this is how Pirkko Saisio’s new play HOMO! (music composed by Jussi Tuurna) is described by the Finnish National Theatre, where it is currently playing to full houses. This tragicomical-farcical satire takes up serious issues with gusto. In this extract we meet Veijo Teräs, troubled by his dreams of Snow White, who resembles his steely MP wife Hellevi – and seven dwarves. Introduction by Soila Lehtonen

Dictators and bishops: Scene 15, ‘A small international gay opera’. Photographs: The Finnish National Theatre / Laura Malmivaara, 2011

Veijo Teräs
Hellevi, Veijo’s wife and a Member of Parliament
Hellevi’s Conscience
Rebekka, Hellevi and Veijo’s daughter
Moritz, Hellevi and Veijo’s godson
Agnes af Starck-Hare, Doctor of Psychiatry
Seven Dwarves
Tom of Finland
The Bishop of Mikkeli
Adolf Hitler
Albert Speer
Josef Stalin
Old gays: Kale, Jorma, Rekku, Risto
Olli, Uffe,Tiina, Jorma: people from SETA [the Finnish LGBT association]
Second Lieutenant, Private Teräs, the men in the company
A Policeman
Big Gay, Little Gay, Middle Gay
William Shakespeare
Hermann Göring
Hans-Christian Andersen
Teemu & Oskari, a gay couple
The Apostle Paul
Father Nitro
Winston Churchill


On the stage, a narrow closet.

Veijo Teräs appears, struggling to get out of the closet.

Veijo Teräs is dressed as a prince. He is surprised and embarrassed to see that the audience is already there. He seems to be waiting for something.

He speaks, but continues to look out over the audience expectantly.

Snow White's spouse, Veijo (Juha Muje), and the dwarves. Photo: Laura Malmivaara, 2011

This outfit isn’t specifically for me, because… I mean, it’s part of this whole thing. This Snow White thing. I’m waiting for the play to start. Just like you are. My name is Veijo Teräs and I’m playing the point of view role in this story. Writers put point of view roles like this in their plays nowadays. They didn’t use to.

Just to be clear – this isn’t a ballet costume. I’m not going to do any ballet dancing, but I won’t mind if someone dances, even if it’s a man. Particularly if it’s a man. But I don’t watch. Ballet, I mean. Not at the opera house, or on television, or anywhere, and I have no idea why we had to bring up ballet – or I had to bring it up – because this is a historical costume, so it’s appropriate. This is what men used to wear, real men like Romeo and Hamlet, or Cyrano de Bergerac. But we in the theatre these days have a hell of a job getting an audience to listen to what a man has to say when he’s standing there saying what he has to say in an outfit like this. People get the idea that it’s a humorous thing, but this isn’t, this Snow White thing, where I play the prince. Snow White is waiting in her glass casket, she died from an apple, which seems to have become the Apple logo, Lord knows why, the one on the laptops you see on the tables of every café in town. More…

The gender of the soul

14 June 2010 | Drama, Fiction

Scenes from the play Kuningatar K / Queen C

Christina, the Queen
The Queen Mother
Karl Gustav, the Count [Christina’s suitor, the King-to-be]
Descartes, philosopher
The King
Oxenstierna, Per Brahe
A choir of midwives

The play can be performed with six actors (3 female, 3 male). Other ways of dividing the roles are possible. All stage directions may be altered.

1. Prologue
The eels’ court

If eels had a court then a great female eel would sit in the centre and the little males would writhe about like seaweed around the throne. However they would not be envious of the queen, because they would know that if they swam up into rivers and lakes, into fresh waters, they themselves would gradually become females, great and heavy, and would be able to rule and close into their great embrace all the small little gentlemen. They just have to wait.
I don’t know. What I do know is that a great black eel, as thick as a rope, was pulled out of the well last night and the Queen looked at its silver stomach and its thrashing tail, but the eel looked the Queen in the eyes and in the heart and since then she has never been the same. More…

Burnt orange

Issue 3/1992 | Archives online, Drama, Fiction

Extracts from the play Poltettu oranssi (‘Burnt orange‘): ‘a ballad in three acts concerning the snares of the world and the blood’. Introduction by Tuula Hökkä

The scene is a small town in the decade before the First World War 


an imperial,bearded middle-aged gentleman
a moustached, ageing, slightly shabby leather-manufacturer
his wife, well-preserved, forceful, angular
their daughter, shapely, withdrawn, wary
open, direct, not too ‘common’


Scene two

After a short interval the receptionist opens the door and ushers Marina Klein into the surgery. Exit the receptionist. Marina immediately goes to the end of the room and presses herself against the white wall. The white surface makes her look very isolated in her ascetic black dress. The Doctor, who now appears to be headless – an impression produced by the lighting and the yellowish background – half-turns towards her. More…

The Knife

Issue 4/1989 | Archives online, Drama, Fiction

First performed in 1989 at the Savonlinna Opera Festival. Veitsi (‘The knife’, 1984) is set in Helsinki. The opera is composed by Paavo Heininen and the libretto is by the novelist, poet, playwright Veijo Meri. Veitsi is not a traditional opera, but ‘music-drama’. Introduction by Austin Flint


(Pamppu takes Havinen and the Poet to the Publisher’s office)

Hello there, you great novelist!
This is really a surprise,
as though you’d blown the door off its hinges.

These pages are terrific. Take a look at them. More…

The final scene that Büchner never wrote

Issue 1/1989 | Archives online, Authors, Drama

‘Fierce, stubborn sympathy for a weak, doomed person can be seen everywhere in Georg Büchner’s writing. It was the Leitmotiv of all his literary activity, just as the defense of freedom and justice was the motive for his political action.’ So wrote the poet Eeva-Liisa Manner in her essay, ‘The dramatic and historical Woyzeck’, published in the literary periodical Parnasso in 1962. Her first translation of Büchner’s famous play was published in the same issue. Ever since then, this unfinished last play by Georg Büchner has refused to leave Manner in peace. Altogether she has published three different Finnish translations of the work, most recently in 1987. But she was not content to leave it at that, for she also wrote a conclusion to the incomplete play, providing her own interpretation of Woyzeck’s final scene.

Georg Büchner’s contemporaries felt that his life, too, had been left unfinished. He was only twenty-three years old when he died in 1837 – ‘Ein unvollendet Lied’ (‘an unfinished song’), as Georg Herwegh wrote in a memorial poem dedicated to Büchner in 1841. In the eyes of his contemporaries, Büchner was a dramatist who, with his first play, Danton’s Death, had shown great promise which his early death prevented him from fulfilling. At the time, no one could imagine that the ‘almost finished play’ found among the writer’s posthumous works would provide the stimulus for naturalistic, expressionistic, and epic theatre, or that it would serve as the basis for one of the most important operas of the following century. More…

The Othello of Sand Alley

Issue 1/1989 | Archives online, Drama, Fiction

Eeva-Liisa Manner’s Woyzeck is an independent ending to Georg Büchner’s fragmentary play. Introduction by Riitta Pohjola


(Dawn in the market square of Leipzig. A gallows looms, dimly visible in the distance. Brisk rumble of drums.)


What’s going on here?

1st MAN

They’re getting ready for an execution. Some villain’s going to be executed in public.




Franz Woyzeck. I guess you know him, the barber. More…


Issue 1/1989 | Archives online, Drama, Fiction

An extract from the tragedy Kullervo (1864). Introduction by David Barrett
The plot of the Kullervo story as told in the Kalevala: Untamo defeats his brother Kalervo’s army, and Kalervo’s son Kullervo is born a slave. Untamo sells him as a young child to llmarinen whose wife, the Daughter of Pohjola, makes the boy a shepherd and bakes him a loaf with a stone inside it. Kullervo takes his revenge by sending home a flock of wild animals, instead of cattle, who tear her to pieces. He flees, and discovers that his parents and two sisters are alive on the borders of Lapland. He finds them, but one of his sisters is lost. Life in the family home is unhappy: Kullervo fails in all the tasks his father sets him. On his way home one day he finds a girl in the forest whom he abducts in his sledge and seduces. It turns out the girl is his lost sister, who drowns herself when she learns that Kullervo is her brother. Kullervo sets out to revenge himself on Untamo; he kills and destroys. When he returns home, he finds the house empty and deserted, goes into the forest and falls on his sword.

ACT II, Scene 3

Kalervo’s cottage by Kalalampi Lake. It is night-time. Kimmo, seated by a fire of woodchips, is mending nets. More…

Power or weakness?

Issue 3/1986 | Archives online, Drama, Fiction

An extract from the play Hypnoosi (‘Hypnosis’, 1986). Introduction by Soila Lehtonen

As you all know, this company has been my life’s work and it stands for everything I’ve had to renounce. You know that for years I have not received a penny for my personal expenses, that I am on the firm’s lowest wage level, zero.

I haven’t even had a free cup of coffee; if, because I have been working hard or I wanted to improve my concentration, I have felt like a cup of coffee, I have always gone to the canteen during my coffee break and challenged one of the boys to a bout of arm wrestling under the agreement that the loser buys the coffees, and the bloke has paid. The money never came out of the firm’s running expenses, investments, trusts or funds. More…

The Sleepwalker

Issue 1/1984 | Archives online, Drama, Fiction

We print here an extract from the radio play Somngångerskan (‘The sleepwalker’, 1978). Walentin Chorell himself said that he felt this genre to be the closest to his heart, and his radio plays are perhaps the element of his work that has contributed most to his reputation in Finland and in the rest of Europe.

As the play begins, we sense night in the old, rambling log house, with a clock ticking in the background; the sound comes closer, intensifies, and then dies away again. The clock strikes three; its works are old and complaining. Long silence.

Then the silence is broken by the loud and happy laughter of Jerine, the sleepwalker. A flock of gulls is heard calling over the beach; there is a gentle summer breeze, and the waves are lapping against the boulders on the shore.

FIRST VOICE (=the mother, frightened)

What’s wrong? What have you wakened me up for?

SECOND VOICE (=the father)

It’s Jerine. She was laughing in her sleep. More…

Mary Bloom

Issue 4/1983 | Archives online, Drama, Fiction

Introduction by Väinö Vainio

‘Is Mary Bloom about a revivalist religious meeting, a party political conference at which a new leader is born, or a rock concert? These are among the things that have been suggested. I don’t know. I don’t hope for restraint in the imaginations of those who choose.to interpret my work, although I observe it myself. The work of a writer is a part of life, it is an individual and collective experience that seeks, finds, takes and uses its materials like a motor machine. For those who create it the drama is real, as in the theatre, for the duration of the performance.’ Jussi Kylätasku


Mary Bloom
Martha, a doctor
Otto, a preacher
Disabled veteran
Serenity, his wife
Cold Cal, a prisoner
Blind man, Deaf Wife More…

Howl came upon Mr Boo

Issue 4/1983 | Archives online, Children's books, Drama, Fiction

The first Mr Boo book was published in 1973. Mr Boo has also made his appearance on stage this year; his theatrical companions are the children Mike and Jenny, who are not easily frightened – Mr Boo’s courage is a different matter, as can be seen in the extract from the stage play that follows overleaf.

Hannu Mäkelä describes the birth of Mr Boo:

To be honest, Mr Boo has long been my other self. The first time I drew a character who looked like him, without naming it Boo, I was really thinking of my fifteen­ year-old self.

The years went by and the Mr Boo drawing was forgotten for a time. It hadn’t occurred to me to write for children; I seemed to have enough to do coping with myself. Then I met Mr Boo, whom I had not yet linked up with my old drawing. My son was about six years old and we had been invited out. There were several children present. As I recall it it was a wet Sunday afternoon. I had entrenched myself with the other grown-ups in the kitchen to drink beer. The noise of the children grew worse and worse (in other words they were enjoying themselves). At last the women could bear it no longer and demanded that I, too, get to work. Really, what right had I always to be sprawled at a table with a beer glass in my hand? None. So I rose and went into the sitting-room. I shouted at the children to form a circle around me. At that time I had a motto: ‘Mäkelä – friend to children and dogs’. The reverse was true of course. The name Mr Boo occurred to me, probably as a result of some obscure private (and possibly even erotic) pun and I begun to tell a story about him. In telling it I paused dramatically and accelerated just as primary school teachers are taught to do: that part of my training, after all, wasn’t wasted. I was astonished; the children listened in complete silence. And if my memory doesn’t fail me (or even if it does, this is the way I wish to remember it), at the end of the story the smallest of the children said, rolling his r’s awkwardly, ‘Hurrrrah’. I was hooked.

The children themselves asked me to tell the same stories again. They still enjoyed them. It wasn’t long before I began to think seriously of writing a whole book about Mr Boo. For the first time in my life I really wanted to write for children. Every day after work I wrote a new Mr Boo story. Then in the evening I read it to my son. That is how the stories grew into a book.

The child likes right to triumph; he likes the good and the moral. The child is the kind of person we adults try in vain to be. It was only through Mr Boo that I began to see children in a totally new way and above all to become seriously interested in them.