Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki is the very definition of an auteur filmmaker. His films include Hamlet Goes Business, a film-noir remake of the Bard’s Danish tale, Leningrad Cowboys Go America, a fictional tale of a Russian rock band touring the United States, and his 2002 masterpiece, The Man Without A Past.
It’s this latter film which has become an unlikely stage adaptation by touring company New Perspectives. Jack McNamara’s adaptation is very much a stripped-down affair, with just four actors onstage, and a minimal set by Amelia Jane Hankin that’s only fully revealed towards the end of the play.
There’s very little knowledge required of Kaurismäki’s original film, as this is a simple story, beautifully told. A man is found on the rocks of a small fishing community, wrapped in bandages and with no memory whatsoever. He tries to rebuild his life from scratch, including embarking on a tentative romance with a resident who has her fair share of pain to deal with.
McNamara (who also directs here) does well at portraying Kaurismäki’s rather quirky humour onstage. The opening scene is almost worth the price of admission alone, as the audience becomes the judges for a talent show with just the one contestant – a middle-aged woman singing a version of Tina Turner’s ‘The Best’, while the stern-faced host for the evening glares at the audience clutching a can of tinned fish. It’s surreal and oddly endearing, which could describe the rest of the play.
Jamie De Courcey is sweet and endearingly gawky as the mystery man trying to discover his past, but it’s Victoria Brazier as Irma who’s the real star here. At first she seems the comic relief of the piece, but as she becomes closer to the mystery man, her guard drops and you start to quietly root for her happiness. It’s a lovely performance, both funny and touching.
Angela Bain and David Amhad round off the cast, and both provide highly comic performances. Bain is the kind-hearted local, Kaisa, who takes the mystery man under her wing, while Ahmad, in a performance that fairly leaps off the stage, is a moustachioed local named Antilla, suspicious of the new stranger’s motives, and prone to wielding a megaphone for no obvious reason.
While the first half of the production is a case of setting the scene and introducing us to these characters, in the second half the mystery is addressed and cleared up. This second half is, funnily enough, less satisfying, as the Lynchian humour takes a backseat as the mystery is resolved. Kaurismäki often works best as a mood piece rather than a more intricately plotted work, and it’s this that impacts on McNamara’s adaptation. When the mystery is eventually revealed, it’s with a bit of a sense of anti-climax.
However, there aren’t many Aki Kaurismäki adaptations out there, and McNamara makes a decent fist of this one. He successfully duplicates that uneasy sense of melancholy and absurdist humour that is Kaurismäki’s trademark, and the characters live with you long after the lights come up. Also, if this becomes a dry run for more Kaurismäki adaptations and we’re to see bequiffed Siberian rockers on a Doncaster stage, so much the better…
The Man Without a Past was at CAST, Doncaster on 8th May, and tours the UK until 19th May. More info here.