"I deliberately try to avoid all methods." (Kiasma Magazine 5/99)
Leea Klemola (B. 1965) is one of the most interesting and indeed shocking theatre practitioners in Finland today. She began her career as an actress. In her plays she breaks the bounds of theatre, creating forms of expression which are new, unabashed, and honest. Klemola's works examine shame, the body and sexuality, as well as love and community.
Klemola is an award-winning actress, having won Finland's highest acting honour, the Jussi Award, for her leading role in the Finnish movie Neitoperho (1997) and again in 2013 for Kerron sinulle kaiken. In 2005 she was recognized by the Finnish Cultural Foundation, which awarded her an Olavi Veistäjä Grant for her significant contributions to Finnish theatre as a director and playwright. She is a founding member of the Aurinko (Sun) Theatre in Helsinki, where many of her productions were first produced.
A series of plays co-authored with Pentti Halonen, Kahelianainen (Wacky Woman, 1995), Seksuaali (Sexual, 1998) and Anne Krankin päiväkirja (The Diary of Anne Krank, 2001), raised eyebrows due to their provocative style and deliberate absence of good taste. Jessika - vapaana syntynyt (Jessica – Born Free, 2002) tells about a teenage girl's life and growing pains, though its main role was written to be performed by the oldest possible actress. Klemola calls her play Kokkola (Kokkola, 2004, co-authored with Klaus Klemola) an "arctic tragedy." This absurd but also moving story, populated by colourful characters, has been both a critical and popular success. The Kokkola saga continues in Kohti kylmempää (Into the Cold, 2008) and New Karleby (2011) written by Leea and his brother Klaus Klemola.
In Jessikan pentu (Jessika's Cub, 2012), the teenage girl from Jessica - Born Free has grown up. Now she tries to deal with her failure as a mother while she feels more and more that her place is in the nature not with the people in urban setting saturated with technical gadgets. She wants to fight for her survival. Klemola's Maaseudun tulevaisuus (The Shepherd), a twisted pastoral play about dystopian Finland of the future, premiered at the Finnish National Theatre in 2014.
Jessica – Born Free (Jessika – vapaana syntynyt, 2002)
Although the main character, Jessica, is a fourteen-year-old girl, this play is no ordinary story about growing up. The play examines the life and emotions of a teenage girl with new seriousness, seeing them as genuinely interesting, and then compounds the effect by having the role played by an older actress. Instead of pitting parent against child, here the mothers too are seen as somebody's daughter, part of a long chain.
According to the author, "the play is based upon the observation that within every individual there is something that always stays the same. What it feels like to love, what it feels like to fear, and what it feels like to trust."
The play covers a period of two weeks, during which Jessica finally breaks off a humiliating relationships with her boyfriend. Since so much of Jessica's time has been spent waiting at home for the boy, her family as well as her best friend are important figures in her life. The play depicts the family as a community composed of different individuals, where the mother creates a world in which the other characters can develop a sense of humour.
The mother has succeeded best in taming Ludvik, the 13-year-old son, whose mindset and attitudes towards life point to a future as a strategy chief in handling major catastrophes.
Jessica's life is full of externally small but internally brutal humiliations, as well as bad feelings which are difficult to put into words. These are counterbalanced by the family's warmth and clumsy tenderness, especially Ludvik's staunch support. Jessica is a grotesque and savagely beautiful depiction of painful love and the oddities of family life. It is funny in a grotesque kind of way, but at the same time an insightful and genuinely-drawn tragicomedy. The play does not have a single plot, but nevertheless builds a believable and engrossing world, where everyday happenings grow to absurd dimensions.
"The boy owns a survival belt and other equipment but doesn't even begin to understand that at night you're supposed to lie flat, not straight up. I'll buy him a spirit level and tape it to his side, dammit."
Kokkola (Kokkola, 2004)
Kokkola is a crazy, coarse and moving play which doesn't fit any genre, just as its characters don't fit into typical moulds. With two friends, Piano Larsson is running a human forwarding firm, which helps people in various kinds of trouble, transporting them by bus. Marja-Terttu Zeppelin, a bouncer, dreams of travelling to Greenland, but is forced to flee to the sea ice. Her brother Saku and his wife are practising infant care with the help of a doll, though his wheelchair-bound wife cannot resist the slightest temptation to taunt her husband. Marja-Terttu's daughter, Maura, has fallen in love with Piano's girlfriend, Minna. In Kokkola, a woman turns into a seal, relationships are terminated by dictaphone, and people show their love by taking a beating. Its characters are dead serious both about love and their own bitterness. The play does not follow the familiar practices of good dramaturgy, but lives on stage according to its own rules. Its robust language and repeated use of male nudity require a great deal of courage from both its performers and the audience, but underneath lies a rough beauty and arctic, cold sensitivity. In 2005, Kokkola was awarded as the Play of the Year in Finland.
"It is essential to and entirely in keeping with our business concept that we develop the attitude that we work even if there isn't any. All the work that hasn't already been staked out by somebody else is ours."
The play has been translated into English, Russian, German, Estonian, Hungarian and Czech. It has been performed at the Endla Theatre in Pärnu, Estonia, the Marta Theatre Studio in Brno, Czech Republic, the F.X.Saldy Theatre in Liberec, Czech Republic and at the Akvavit Theatre in Chicago, USA.
Into the Cold (Kohti kylmempää, 2008)
by Leea and Klaus Klemola
"This is definitely the most erotic environment I've ever been in, this dark, cold, slippery, rugged hell. Only a bomb shelter during the war could give rise to more powerful feelings."
The Kokkola saga continues. Marja-Terttu is running the world's northernmost grill in Greenland, but longs to be somewhere even colder. An expedition led by Piano Larsson is on its way to establish a new society, joined by the world's last remaining Neanderthals and Piano's grandmother, a 78-year-old prostitute. But nowhere is it so cold that emotions cannot flare, and soon not only the ice but also the group starts breaking up.
Familiar from her previous hit play is Klemola's politically incorrect and shamelessly hilarious style. This story about people who are at the mercy of nature and love is an unpredictable mixture of mysticism and black humor, an adventure to the farthest reaches of the world and the human mind.
"I haven't seen anything this explosively crazy as far as I can remember – if ever. I surrender. This commedia dell'arte of polar glaziers draws directly from the marrow of carnevalism. The stage is flooded with Klemola's inexhaustible fantasy. The gallery of characters, both human and canine, is dizzying..."
Kirsikka Moring, Helsingin Sanomat
The play has been translated into English, French and Danish. It has been produced at the Nørrebro Teater in Copenhagen and at the Endla Theatre in Pärnu, Estonia.
New Karleby (New Karleby, 2011)
by Leea and Klaus Klemola
"You see I just thought like I'm really supposed to support and protect people, and be there at crash scenes fast, and it's like really difficult to choose one's driving routes so one doesn't come across people you owe money. And then it's sort of like embarrassing, when one comes across a major disaster, and one should try to save lives, and then you feel relieved when someone dies, because no matter who the victim is, if he's from anywhere this side of Finland it's someone you owe at least a million. That's your mother there then, trying to kick people's arteries and get their drops mixed to somehow curb your debts just a little..."
Piano Larsson returns to Kokkola from Greenland upon the collapse of the new society and his marriage of convenience. He no longer is what he once was, so he decides to transform into something else, preferably a grandma. That means it's time for lessons in grandmahood, which are provided by his next-door neighbour, the actor Elli Frolov. Meanwhile, Arijoutsi tries to recapture the old feeling of community, but Lömmarkki has found Jesus. Piano's father Kaulus is forced to shepherd spotted hyenas brought over from Africa whose existence revolves around scrounging. No wonder the hyena boy Euroloordi gets bored and wants to become human.
The Arctic Trilogy comes to a worthy conclusion in a play where the fundamental questions of life – love, family, and what it really means to be human – are resolved in the familiar raunchy, blunt style. Everyone wants to change, everyone needs help, but who will dare to ask for it?
"New Karleby is a riotous journey, simultaneously foul-smelling and poetic. It moves both colossally large and small, seemingly insignificant everyday themes along side by side. The result is an irresistible polyphony."
Maria Säkö, Helsingin Sanomat
The play has been translated into English.
Jessika's Cub (Jessikan pentu, 2012)
The main character from the play Jessica – Born Free is now an adult, a wife, and a mother. But the connection between her family members seems to have been lost, Jessica is plagued by panic attacks, and her yearning to get away from humanity and back to nature is growing ever-stronger. In a last-ditch attempt to piece her family back together, Jessica rents a theatre and, along with her husband, mother, and her therapy dog Jekku, starts creating a performance to show her son how he was supposed to have been raised. But the show just won't come together: the technical problems mount, the dog chases rabbits, and mom needs to use the bathroom. Animal instincts and the desire to flee humanity take an ever-firmer hold over Jessica.
This sequel to the cult play from 2002 strikes bluntly at modern man's addiction to technology and lost relationship to nature. The line between animals and humans dims as the characters wander in their internal woods. Klemola nevertheless shows an opportunity for rebirth and the creation of a new connection.
The play has been translated into English and was produced at Edinburgh Theater Festival 2013.
The Shepherd (Maaseudun tulevaisuus, 2014)
At some point in the future, Finland has been divided into two counties, north and south. In the north, animals have been accorded full civil rights. A former drummer, Maksim Kuorikoski, has set himself up as a modern day shepherd in the ruins of an old church. Unfortunately, the only sheep in his flock is a suicidal alcoholic. Maksim also has other problems to contend with: a runaway animal spirit, the neighboring farmer who is having an affair with a goat, a horse who has ditched his soul, and worst of all, since animal slaughter is no longer legal, hunger.
Leea and Klaus Klemola have created a twisted pastoral drama, a rabidly hilarious in-yer-face fable which seriously avoids any attempt at good taste. Nevertheless, the play is also a curiously winsome fairy-tale about life, death and human nature, written in the Klemolas' unique, characteristically baroque style. The Shepherd is a text loaded with wild theatrical fantasy and deep universal questions.
The play has been translated into English.
"Beyond all the farcical soap-opera and iconoclasm, the Klemola siblings' play is about social division and politics in Finland, about the emotional bonds across species, about ethics, equality, faith, attachment and domestic violence. About sexuality and the food-chain. About guilt.
From this perspective, the reality we're headed for seems so absurd and oppressive that laughter is undoubtedly the only way to stay sane.
If the performance had been less geared towards comedy and chaos, we might have been admonished by the sermon, but sermonizing is not the Klemolas' style. They are definitely opinionated, but they don't try and ram their own agenda down our throats."
Suna Vuori, Helsingin Sanomat
Casanova, My Wife (Vaimoni, Casanova, 2016)
Casanova, My Wife is the story of the 60-year old actress Kyllikki Lalla, the wife of Jukka Merenmies, and her return to work in the rehearsals of a play about Casanova, after a long sick leave and allegations of sexual harassment.
Casanova, My Wife is a play about pain, craving for love and a doomed attempt to stay within the limits of reason and good behaviour. It is an erotic comedy about the worn-out mask of a conqueror, through which shines the insecure, hungry, helpless face of its wearer, afraid of ending up alone.
"I have just in case modernized this play with the thought of protecting workplace morale. Kyllikki plays a granny who is totally over fucking. A real gimpy old hag. All the sex there was in Casanova is now played by me. This is a two-person play. Kyllikki is Casanova. I'm s-s-sex."
- Antero Jokinen, 50, theatre cloakroom attendant
An RV Named Desire (Viettelyksen asuntovaunu, 2017)
by Leea Klemola and Miko Kivinen
"Listen up Teppo while I tell you a secret. How I have had it so well until now. Audiobooks. If you can't be bothered to read, listen. History is like a winding road in the wilderness, you'll always find a way towards other people, no matter how tenuous and creaky the bridge you have to cross."
An Rv Named Desire is a story of people at the crossroads of their lives at Isomäki Camping in Pori, autumn 2017.
It is the story of taxi driver Kari Metsäsimola's downfall that begins with the structural changes in local economy and has its finale played at the Camping, in an RV, Wagon de Désirée, the home of tango princess Merita Mäki and Kari's brother Teppo, whom he formerly knew as his sister Teija.
"I have always depended on the kindness of uniformed men."
An RV Named Desire is a wild and unpredictable tragicomedy about social identity, who we are under others' gaze, whom we try to be and what we are afraid to be revealed as. It is a play about work, love and the crisis of masculinity. You may hear some distant echoes of a certain classic American tragedy, but this play creates its own, wholly unique world and takes the viewer into strange, unexpected places.
"Beneath the occasionally raunchy humour and the literal nakedness, an existential tragedy is revealed, when the characters are forced to faced a change without being able to control it."
Laura Kytölä, Helsingin Sanomat
The play has been translated into English.