Myrskyluodon Maija: A Celebration of the Finnish Courage
Raw and unpredictable nature, melancholy, humble attitude, and ‘sisu’ – what could be more Finnish? The Helsinki City Theatre offers the celebrating people of the 100-year-old Finland a beautiful musical story that has already warmed our hearts in the form of a TV series, and is based on novels written by Anni Blomqvist: Myrskyluodon Maija. It is a coming-of-age story about Maija, a young woman from a humble, religious family living in Ahvenanmaa, Finland in the 1800s. She is wedded to a young man called Janne quite against her own true will, and the young pair is sent off to Myrskyluoto, a lonely island which offers the just-marrieds nothing but storms and distance from loved ones. They start a family and survive a tragedy after another.
Many Finns will most likely associate the story of Myrskyluodon Maija with the iconic tune composed by Lasse Mårtenson, whose music the show is also based on. Not only is the melancholic and elegant piece best enjoyed when the piano and the strings smoothly colour in the notes in perfect harmony, but the song has also been heard starring a soprano singer. In this production, Laura Alajääski (Maija) doesn’t let the audience down with her tear-jerking interpretation of the famous tune. Her and Antti Timonen’s (the shoemaker) solos, along with the powerful performance of the string players, are without doubt the strongest links of the whole musical.
The sea is a strong motive in the story, and it is represented in the musical by the piano crescendos, which gradually build a blasting of waves, to accompany the dancers’ imitation of the unpredictable, everchanging nature. The dancers skilfully simulate the sea’s movements as it takes everything from Maija. Although the choreography is enjoyable and impeccably executed, there are times when the stage feels too full, and it’s impossible to stay on track of the multiple groups of actors simultaneously realizing all kinds of action.
The plot doesn’t have a flawless flow throughout the show either. After the strong start has worn off, both the story and the music seem to be nearly sleeping, unfortunately along with the audience. However, the second half comes as a saviour: everything seems to happen fast all of a sudden, the music makes its way into the sceptic’s heart, and the miserable, painful events keep punching the consciousness of the unaware listener. Briefly put, the audience is made weep, weep, and weep some more, but in a very positive sense.
Perfectly in line with the theme of Finland’s 100-year-old independency, the musical tells the story of a Finn whose courage and determination are of outstanding nature. Maija survives several tragedies that have the potential of making her a hopeless and bitter shell of a human; instead of giving up, she practices and perfects the art of moving on and accepting life in all its shapes and forms.
However, this piece is no fairy tale; Maija doesn’t marry the person she has feelings for, she has to rebuild her life several times out of the nothing that first sea and then fire leave for Maija and her children, and she claims to love the man she was made to spend her life with – while it’s clear to us that this forcedly learnt affection is not exactly what the Romantics would have called ‘love’ – and there’s no room for dreaming or accomplishing personal goals. The musical story is pure Finnish realism, and what’s more, it’s a tribute to the Finnish courage or the ‘sisu’ – and what else could we wish for Finland’s special year.
The musical goes beyond death, suffering and loneliness – it goes on to show us how it is possible and crucial to survive. The main character finds peace and stability, being able to ultimately lead a happy, balanced life despite everything she has had to go through. A message worthy of attention in today’s world of instant and easy everything; this show serves as a well-needed reminder of just how much more bloody, sweaty and filled with tears life can in fact be.
All in all, the musical doesn’t disappoint an impartial spectator; however, if you are as much attached to the music as I am – the tune is one of my personal favourites to play on the piano, and it has also been played to me since I was a toddler – you might find it difficult to be satisfied with the music itself. Apart from the already mentioned powerful solo performances, the audience is left longing for more; the show seems to almost be scared of overusing the tune. It’s a shame, because music is close to being the most important thing in a musical, and this show underwhelms its audience in that it lacks variations and braver use of its vibrant musical theme.
Cover image copyright free.