The origins of the speksi theater lie somewhere in the academic tradition of 16th century Sweden, and yet this month's Humanistispeksi marks only the fifth annual theatrical production for the Helsinki Faculty of Arts. I fondly recall the very first Humanistispeksi back in 2011: a sensational three-hour congregation of song, dance, and talented performances peppered with the perfect doses of wit and laughter. The expertly crafted debut showed no signs of first-time jitters, and thus, after an inexcusably long stint of non-attendance, I was looking forward to revisiting the magic of humanist theater in this year's geeky production, Pe(i)li: Heroes of Consolia, hosted in Gloria Cultural Arena. And while the nostalgic crack addict might draw attention to the uniqueness of that “first time”, I can safely say that this year's Humanistispeksi provided an audiovisual treat worthy of that legendary maiden production.
The growing popularity of speksi shows has also led to an aggressiveness in ticket sales, so if you are attending one without allocated seating, make sure you get to the theater in good time! Bearing that in mind, my friends and I did manage to arrive nice and early at Gloria. However, the euphoria of securing good seats was soon punctured by an incessant 8-bit song looping in the background prior to the show; albeit being a competently arranged chiptune, exposure to it for half an hour straight did have the potential of initializing a mental breakdown. I suppose the song did however function as a warm-up for the anticipated headliner – when the clock finally struck seven, I was quite eager to get on with the f***ing show!
And thankfully, the show delivered. The very first scene already displayed a wide range of elaborately costumed performers, fusing the courtly aesthetics of a Shakespeare play with colorful homages to fandom universes, including for example The Legend of Zelda, Minecraft, Doctor Who and Disney's latest smash hit Frozen. Lores from old-school console games were at the referential fore, and while some of the more intricate ↑↑↓↓←→←→B A puns may have gone over my head (also, why no love for IDDQD?), most of the gags and nerdy shout-outs were well-thought-out and easy to follow.
The plot introduces the virtual kingdom of Consolia, inhabited by a slew of haughty regals, noble thieves and power-hungry mages, all locked in a power struggle which will dictate the ultimate fate of the realm. This fictional universe eventually collides with the 'real one', when inexplicable portal magic brings together two unassuming heroes: the sassy 8-bit rogue Rosales (Vilma Kuikka) and a prototypical basement nerd Kerkko (Henrikki Pöntinen). While the complexities of family relations, betrayal and identity crises were occasionally touched upon, the story generally settled within the stylistic confines of a swashbuckler fantasy, investing in the good ol' check-your-brain-at-the-door entertainment.
As the show progressed, things on stage would get increasingly frenzied and exhilarating, owing largely to the energetic performers nailing the onslaught of audience omstarts – I found myself cracking up even when the actors' interpretations seemed to be completely off the mark. My only real grievance was the relative lack of dark humor: only once did I sense the audience shifting uncomfortably when “Omstart, eka kerta!” resulted in Kerkko's delightfully graphic exposition about male anxieties in the bedroom. I also quite liked the compulsory Oedipus joke, and the omstart for Robin's “mun sy-sy-sydämestä puuttuu palanen” admittedly chilled me to the bone..
The musical numbers were spot-on, covering the likes of Foo Fighters, Taylor Swift, Pharrell Williams and, once again, Frozen. My personal favorite was the classy reinterpretation of Elton John's “Be Prepared” (from The Lion King score), and I also enjoyed the momentary foray into dubstep. The musical star of the show was the villainous witch-queen Mezereum (Iiris Nikanne), who would at times go beyond the vocal call of duty by showcasing verbal acrobatics in the rap department. Also, special kudos to the band and songwriters for turning something as notorious as the Pokemon main theme into a joyous and meaningful affair.
The flaws of the show boiled down to minor technicalities. The choice of playing two or more songs in a row may have hampered the immersion to the story at times. The stage lighting could have also been a tad more subtle: the excessive use of strobes tended to induce headaches in certain audience members! That said, the graphical displays and sound effects accompanying the stage setting were terrific, and perhaps best summed by the promotional video below.
During the final ovation, I could feel my jaw muscles aching from all the grinning and laughing; and so I tip my hat to the everyone involved in this stellar production.