Some years ago I was performing at a theatre festival in Finland with the Natural Theatre Company. On our one night off we were invited by the organisers to performance of what they referred to as a ‘social drama’. Although this was long before the era of the now ubiquitous Nordic Noir, we feared something deep and meaningful. So I made the excuse that we wouldn’t understand the language.
‘Oh, but we’ve done you an English synopsis!’ came the gleeful reply.
I read the synopsis out loud as we drove to the theatre. The plot was indeed deep and meaningful – so much so that our driver had to pull over for fear of crashing, he was laughing so much!
I kept the synopsis and indeed have dined out on it many times. I hereby present it to you, unexpurgated, for your edification. I’m sure you’ll agree it beats any episode of The Killing for ladled-on gloom and opaque plotting.
‘’WITH LOVE, YOUR SISTER’’
1. It is January, 1987. It is getting bitterly cold, colder than ever before. The twin sisters Nora and Rina are living alone in a dilapidated villa. Nora wants to write a letter but everyone to whom she wants to write is dead.
2. It is 1918. The girls believe Victor will beat the Bolshevists. Mother does not want to let him go. Victor is leaving: he can’t stand hard work and his filthy hands.
3. Rina wants support for her genealogical study. The picture of Lady Hamilton obviously resembles her. But Nora is looking for a jar of jelly she has hidden.
4. Victor can’t stand office work. He says it was on purpose he got himself dismissed from the 4711 perfume factory!
5. Father’s business has failed, there is no money left.
6. Rina writes from England once again. Father leaves a farewell letter and shoots himself.
7. Someone is throwing stones at the window. The Municipal Home Aid has warned them about the stealing boys from the orphanage. The sisters spread ashes around to see if any things disappear. It’s colder and colder, but how do you know if the radiator is on?
8. The police question Edna and Marion. Mother keeps silent. Victor has hanged himself. The girls can’t answer the questions but they correct some mistakes in spelling.
9. Nora doesn’t call anywhere. She doesn’t like the telephone.
10. The lake is beautiful. Actually nothing happened, but how significant everything was anyway!
11. Rina sends parcels of food. It’s bitterly cold but the frost flowers on the window are lovely. The dolls must be dressed more warmly.
12. Marion is in a mental home. She is forgotten and left there for the rest of her life.
13. Rina sends tinned peaches, toffees and a pretty picture of Princess Anne.
14. Where is the telephone? It has been taken to the room of things that could be forgotten.
15. The old family picture must be found! Everything depends on it! Mother doesn’t want to remember because she is hungry. Edna wants proof of her royalty. Mother makes Edna go into the kitchen and…
16. Rina and Nora are reading the death certificate: ‘Cut both her wrists, stabbed the upper part of her stomach with a knife.’ The cause of Edna’s death? A cut through the heart.
17. They have come to take mother to the old people’s home. Nora resists this shameful social welfare, but mother knows the importance of warm water. Nora is left alone in the house of memories.
18. Rina arrives from England. She has a fever, Nora must get help. But where is the telephone? Everything seems to disappear. This time it is the telephone! But the pen and paper are there, so Nora is writing a letter: ‘Dear Father, it’s very cold here. The frost flowers on the window are lovely…’
Needless to say, feeling emotionally drained, we decided not to go to the performance. Instead we went to a restaurant and stuffed ourselves with raw herring. We know how to enjoy ourselves in the Naturals!