We caught up with Lucie Dawkins, director of Mika Myllyaho’s Garage (orig. Korjaamo) for New Nordics festival, to chat about the process of producing Garage and the experience and intricacies of translating the play for a new audience.
Could you tell us a bit about Garage and how you got involved with New Nordics?
I’ve always been fascinated with working internationally. I got involved as a director with the festival because it was such an exciting proposition to bring new Nordic plays to the UK. Cultural exchange really fascinates me and, then I fell in love with Mika’s beautiful play. In many ways, it’s a platonic love story about two childhood friends who go their separate ways in life and are reunited in their sixties in a little garage, owned by one of them. We spent some time building it with two fantastic British actors: Duncan Duff and Michael Jenn. We were just about to head into our tech rehearsals when the lockdown hit.
What happened after lockdown?
It’s been a really interesting time. There’s been an explosion of finding creative ways of doing things online. We meet once a week and rehearse over Skype which is a whole new experience for all of us. We also recorded it as a radio play which was released on the Kansallisteatteri’s website. Mika has been extraordinarily supportive and it’s been wonderful collaborating with him and Eva Buchwald, the translator. It was a brutal but wonderful coincidence that I was afforded the opportunity to have such an in-depth, deep dive into Finnish theatre just as the lockdown was happening because it certainly left a lot of thoughts spinning in my mind about my next steps.
You visited Finland as part of the process of developing the play. What was that like and did it change the way you thought about the play?
In lots of ways, yes. It became clear during that trip that the play is autobiographical to Mika. It was amazing to be allowed into his working process and to understand how close this play was to his heart.
What was also fascinating about the trip is that the way that theatre is made in Finland is remarkably different from the way that it’s made here in the UK. Broadly, in the UK we have a short contract system where everybody is a freelancer so you have four, or if you’re lucky, six weeks to make a play. It was fascinating going to Finland and seeing company structures with salaried actors where the actors have an intrinsic role in the creative life of the theaters – including deciding the programme and strategic planning.
Another thing that’s super rare in a British theatre building is for there to be one common space for everybody. There’s an amazing café right in the heart of the Kansallisteatteri. We would sit there with Mika and Eva to talk through the play and stage crew, directors and actors would pass by and stop to have a chat. I took that experience as an incentive to engineer our own rehearsal process back in London in a way that honoured the collaborative atmosphere. A lot of the creative process started by building around that collaborative atmosphere.
Mika Myllyaho has said that he thought Garage was uniquely suited for a British context. What do you think he means by that?
When I first read the play and when the actors first read it, it struck us as containing a very British sensibility in lots of ways. Firstly, we’re used, in Britain, to very naturalistic drama, which I know is not the case in Finland. This type of intimate, character-led, text-heavy drama is really familiar to us. Secondly, a lot of the tension in this play emanates from the fact that the two men in it tend to speak about absolutely anything other than the thing they’re actually feeling. There’s a conflict between what’s being said and what’s being experienced and that’s extremely British.
Were there any difficulties or opportunities presented by translating this work from a Finnish cultural context to a British one?
It’s always interesting to work in translation. I’m a translator of ancient Greek tragedies so it’s a very live question in my practice all the time, how translation works. I think that translation is always a creative question. It was thrilling to sit down with Mika and Eva to look at the things we need to tweak for it to have the same weight that it’s having in Finland, in London. One thing may be crystal clear in Finland and Finnish but in London, it may not read at all. Often it was one or two phrases or individual ideas.
One thing we found funny is that we swear a lot in the UK, quite freely and often in a friendly way. But then Mika pointed out to me that no one swears in the play until a major moment when a specific swear word appears. That had passed me by, simply because we don’t weight swear words in the same way. So then we started weaving in those two levels of language so you can feel the tone shift particularly offensive language appears but elsewhere Olly and Jack can have natural, friendly patter.
Mika has also mentioned that he felt that the play deals with themes closely related to Brexit. What are your thoughts on this?
I think it’s really important because it’s a play that’s very aware of space – it’s very located. You’ve got this little garage, you’ve got this little parochial town around that and then you’ve got a country that’s changing around the town and beyond that, there’s an international context. Their feeling of smallness and vulnerability in this tiny garage is pressurised by these dimensions of space around it: the social space of the town, the changing space of the country and the wider world. They are frightened of what is outside the doors. In this case, their nation is a tiny garage but it’s the same scary sentiment that’s entrenched in Brexit of closing our borders and creating an isolated patch cut off from a misconceived threat from outside.
Lucie Dawkins is co-artistic Director of SCRUM & Host of Cheek by Jowl’s podcast, Not True but Useful. Make sure to check out Lucie’s Finnish Theatre Workshop. For more info and behind-the-scenes material from New Nordics, visit Cut the Cord.
Image: Fay Summerfield, Text: Volter Rechardt