Stellar Quines and Lung Ha’s Theatre Companies, in association with the Finnish National Theatre, make an apposite and inclusive combination. This moving story ebbs and flows between three women – grandmother, mother, daughter – and puts Scots voice into a Nordic element.
Thirteen years ago Eva should have gone to university, but her mother goes out for the evening and does not come back. Eva stays to care for her grandmother, Ursula. The play’s action dives in and out of Eva’s life, from when she was joyfully but illegitimately conceived to her present job in the bread factory. Her father may well be the kind lock-keeper, but Mum’s not saying and he knows not to ask.
The river runs at the front of the raised stage. Upstream, downstream, there’s white water and metaphorical disturbance, but here – in town – it’s the same river; quieter, but “aye changing” below its surface. And that is the course of the play, gradually turning and lifting the lives of these women into view.
Set and costumes are designed by Jan Bee Brown. One hung cloth catches the soft light to shimmering, dual, effect: water and/or midnight sun. A series of slatted wooden benches are moved around to provide various platforms. When the sauna appears from nowhere, you think, yup, it’s been there all the time. Helena’s scarlet red dress and cossie match her exuberant nature.
Paula Salminen writes dialogue of unassuming plainness, which is helpful as the chronology is so deliberately disturbed. However, the sombre certainty that Helena has disappeared is all the coherence that the story needs. The daughter / grandmother scenes are especially well arranged, providing gentle humour as young and old vex and love each other in equal measure.
I suppose where I had difficulty was reconciling the confident Eva, who turns a loudhailer on local bureaucracy, with the young woman who is content to stay at home. Maybe it will only be for as long as her gran needs her, but I’m not sure. The welcome and diverting roles of Timppa and Eeli, local boys who left for the bright lights and opportunities of Helsinki, might provide an answer but it seems, on reflection, a rather shallow one.
Stay alongside the women, and 13 Sunken Years is uplifting and soulful.