A strange brew was imbibed by audience and players at last night’s interpretation of Finnish folklore at the North Wall. The show opened with a toast of liquorice and salt and an early 20th century recording of runo-song which shapes one of the musical traditions performed this evening, the second strand being the "Kalevala" – the written summary of epic Finnish folklore dating back over two millennia. This was the two-pronged depository of Finland’s ancient storytelling tradition which formed the seeds from which this show has grown.
Adverse Camber Productions have ensured that from these traditional roots they have grown a complex, pertinent and entertaining show and this is reflected in the diversity of sound and instruments employed. Kristiina Ilmonen had a strange and eclectic percussion kit. Of course, no drum kit is complete without cow bells, but the bamboo wind chimes were a novelty (as was playing the drums with a bow) and I noticed there were a set of antlers included in the kit – although I never quite discerned what noise they made. At one end of the scale, her playing of the shepherd’s flute was eerie and evocative and at the other her ululating was both joyous and disturbing. However, the undoubted star instrument of the evening was the kantele (a traditional Finnish instrument which looked like a harp played flat on a sound board) played by Timo Väänänen. They produced a wide variety of musical effects from evoking soft breezes to reproducing the effects of a driving storm. The range and effectiveness of the instrument underpinned much of tonight’s performance and acted as an excellent counter-point during the tale of Väinämöinen’s wooing of Aino.
And of course the voice was central to tonight’s performance – both Nick Hennessey’s storytelling and Anna-Kaisa Liedes’ vocals. From the beauty of the opening piece, almost a capella, where the four performers accompanied themselves with reverberating singing bowls, there was great resonance between the artists and audience. Many of the stories in the "Kalevala" explore universal themes – creation, the forging of a sacred/magical artefact, giants, the pursuit of love – but they also delve into intricate and sensitive emotions (Anna-Kaisa Liedes’ singing, whilst the myth of Lemminkäinen’s mother rescuing his body parts from Death’s river and singing them back to life was retold, was very moving).
Together, the cast wove a complex net of sound around each gem of a story, evoking the atmosphere and emotion of each narrative – connecting each tale to the past, wrapped up in the present and projected into the future. Language, music and performers swirled in dynamic layers of song and sound, evoking a range of emotions in a rapt audience – from the simplicity of the musical opening and the setting of sepia photographs, through traditional folk music to jazz interpretations and beyond. As the audience sang the repeating refrain which formed the basis of the closing piece, we were all enthralled and ensnared by a magical evening of music and storytelling.