The Sauna is a wonderful story of life and death, and a unique piece of physical theatre with live soundscape by Finnish company Teatteri Metamorfoosi.
Part of From Start to Finnish, an exclusive programme supported by Dancebase and Summerhall, The Sauna takes us into the country’s traditional place of cleansing that, according to the myth, is always inhabited by its own spirit or elf. In a story without words, this creature disturbs an old woman whose intention is to die peacefully – and takes her (and us) on a journey of her life and womanhood.
All-female company Teatteri Metamorfoosi’s look at womanhood has a unique perspective. The spirit of The Sauna is playful, even a little bit cheeky. The protagonist, an elderly woman who is ready to die, enters the sacred space almost to perform a funeral, beating her skin with birch twigs and then lying down under a white towel. It is incredible how, just in the first few minutes of the show, the space is effortlessly turned into a solemn place – and it provides a good contrast for when the spirit intervenes. The protagonist is then forced to take a trip down memory lane: as the season changes and the snow melts to leave room for blossoms, another version of herself appears, using branches in bloom to perform the same rituals. It is a simple, beautiful cycle of winter and spring, death and life.
The show is a clever take on storytelling with no “telling” at all: the two performers must rely on their own physicality, as they are wearing full-face masks and bodysuits. They gracefully move on stage with a great attention to detail, and are also helped by a live soundscape: drops of water, creaking wood boards and twigs swished in the air give that final touch to an almost flawless performance. It is an exploration of what it means to inhabit a female body that grows old, changed by time or pregnancies; and in order to do so, the actors allow their bodies to speak for them. The result is effective and somewhat endearing, and perfectly showcases this multi-talented ensemble.
Whether or not you are a fan of physical theatre and mime, The Sauna is a unique production that I could definitely count among the highlights of my Fringe experience. A special mention is owed to the actual sauna that the company, in collaboration with Summerhall, has installed outside the venue and is available right after each show for a couple of hours. Your authentic Finnish experience cannot get more immersive than that.