E.L. Karhu

Give me back my voice!

E.L. Karhu’s new commission for Schauspiel Leipzig gives voice to the voiceless Eriopis who has escaped from her murderous mother to tell her story. But whose words is it we hear?

It’s not every day that a foreign theatre commissions a Finnish playwright to write a play. It’s even more unusual for the writer’s agent to provide a professional editor and reader to comment on the text as it takes shape. And it’s virtually unheard of for the author and translator to work seamlessly together during the creative process. But that is precisely what has happened with E.L. Karhu’s Eriopis – Medea’s daughter survives to tell all (Eriopis – Medeas überlebende Tochter erzählt alles).

It tells the story of Eriopis, Medea’s daughter who survived, and it’s about empathy and exploitation in the tabloid and true crime media,” the playwright explains.

Karhu has written multiple versions of the play, which is due to open in Leipzig on 6 March 2020. Translator Stefan Moster translated three of them into German to provide the team access to the text and to allow the text to be developed further. Rohwohlt Theaterverlag represents E.L. Karhu in the German-speaking world but also provided editorial support and commentary on the play as it was being written:

What was special about this process was that my agent, the dramaturge Henrieke Beuthner from Rowohlt commented on two of my earlier versions, much like an editor would,” E.L. Karhu explains.

Two dramaturges are involved in the production, Katja Herlemann from Germany and Pipsa Lonka, Karhu’s fellow author from Finland. As Karhu writes in Finnish, unfinished drafts were translated into German in a bid to mimic a more conventional commissioning process. The cost of the translations was covered by Schauspiel Leipzig.

The play is now complete and has been delivered to the Schauspiel Leipzig team. Georg Mellert is the dramaturge working on the play’s international premiere:

In my view, Eriopis pushes dramatic language to its limits insofar as the main character is presented as not speaking; the process of re-appropriating her language and Eriopis’s self-empowerment are the central thematic aspects of the text.” 
In Eriopis, the main part of the text is assigned to a speaking character who addresses Eriopis in the second person, thus revealing her story. This inverts the classical dramatic situation in an interesting way: a tension is created between the powerful speaker and the mostly silent protagonist. 

Rehearsals are due to begin in January, but Georg Mellert was happy to provide a sneak peek of what’s to come:

There will be lots of music. You will be seeing an opera singer and a composer playing live music on stage. We want to convey a sense of this other language, the language of music, that allows Eriopis to express herself even though she is otherwise silent.

In the spring, E.L. Karhu has been invited to appear at Schauspiel Leipzig’s Autorin an der Bar meet-the-author event which will coincide with a public rehearsal or performance of her play.

Like Princess Hamlet before it, Eriopis will be performed on the theatre’s Diskothek stage, directed by Anna-Sophie Mahler. Prinzessin Hamlet, too, was translated by Stefan Moster and dramaturge Katja Herlemann played a key role in bringing the text to the theatre. Directed by Lucia Bihler, the production opened in December 2017, less than a year after the play had premiered at Helsinki’s Q-teatteri.

E.L. Karhu’s (previously Emilia Pöyhönen) Breadline Ballad (2008) was turned into a touring production by the French La Metonymie ensemble, translated and directed by Tiina Kaartama and appeared at Munich’s Blaue Maus theatre in 2018, translated by Katja von der Ropp.


TINFO / Sari Havukainen, 4 November 2019


The original article in Finnish

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