The students of International
Leftovers From the War
Nina Larissa Bassett (DEN), Ivo Breidis (LAT), Elin Petersdottir (ISL) and Janne Saarakkala (FIN) find themselves in the National Museum at night. What are they there and what are they doing?
This is the first question the performers answer when the audience congregate in the basement of the museum. We are in the dimly lit ‘situation room’, a map of the world with various markers and lists of previous wars laid out in front of us. I feel like I am in Winston Churchill’s Cabinet War Rooms about to plan an invasion.
We hear briefly about each performers life, the geographical movements they have made and how war has affected them, if at all. What becomes clear is that all the performers have a heightened awareness of the imprint of their family history on themselves and all share a desire to trace this imprint, to locate it in history, in this museum, in order to understand it. The message is clear; if you do not recognise your history you will be like unmarked items in a museum. A piece of dusty junk. A leftover.
From the situation room we are divided into 4 groups. Each will travel a different narrative pathway through the museum, changing from the hands of one performer to another. We will only hear sections of each performer’s story. This mode of telling fits wonderfully with the nature of history itself, fragmentary, conflictual and sometimes confusing.
The mode of performance is highly personal. All the performers work in theatre but only Petersdottir is a professional actress. The absence of pretence and their absolute presence in their story telling makes the experience particularly moving.
We learn about the tradition of hard, alcoholic Saarakkala men from Janne Saarakkala. These men are represented by Darth Vader, the shadowy figure who follow Janne around the museum throughout, gazing over his shoulder, a physical representation of how our heredity haunts us. Breidis, in a particularly touching piece tells us about his troubled father and about the disturbing pattern in his family to die before reaching the age of 50. Elin ‘globetrotter’ Petersdottir takes us on a whirlwind tour through the many, many places that she considers as home around the world, often returning to stories of her Grandmother, a remarkable woman who crossed the U-boat infested waters that lay between Iceland and the USA in order to be with Elin’s grandfather, Thor. Nina Larissa Bassett takes the audience with her as she examines her family’s history of restlessness and their tendency to move for no apparent reason.
Moving around the museum at night is an enchanting experience, a fantasy that I’ve had for a long while. I imagine this is the same for many and I’m surprised not to see over eager audience members slipping away to make their own private nocturnal tours through the space.
The performance is entirely site specific in nature and the space is used to brilliant effect. Each performer incorporates the museum artefacts into their performance and the exhibits thus take on a whole new meaning. A subtle but intelligent soundscape has been created around the museum. We hear a piano playing but the keys do not move, we hear movement from round the corner but see no one there. The various sounds that surround us wherever we go give an impression of life and fullness to the dark and haunting museum.
I leave reluctantly, feeling enchanted by the museum, the stories and the honesty of those telling them. History has been brought to life and seeing as everyone has one perhaps it’s time that I find out about mine.
Writer is a theatre maker from London, via Edinburgh, currently residing in Helsinki. She is studying an MA in International Performance Research.
Nina Larissa Basset, Ivo Briedis, Elin Petersdottir, Janne Saarakkala: Leftovers From the War
Credits: Nina Larissa Basset, Ivo Briedis, Elin Petersdottir, Janne Saarakkala, Antti Nikkinen, Nanni Vapaavuori, Tuuli Kyttälä and Vilma Pietilä
Produced by: Leftovers from the war, Baltic Circle & National Museum of Finland
Supported by: Nordic Culture Point & TEKIJÄ – Theatre Touring Network project