12 September 2016

Birgitta Ulfsson’s Memories of Tove Jansson and Moomins at the theatre

In the beginning of June the exhibition Muumit teatterissa opened in Teatterimuseo in Helsinki, Finland. In the first meet and greet of the autumn Birgitta Ulfsson was the honoured guest, she has a long history with Moomin plays and Tove Jansson. On Saturday September 10th we heard Birgitta Ulfsson’s early memories of how Moomin plays came to be and of course of Tove Jansson herself.

Birgitta Ulfsson Moomin September 2016

Ulfsson, 88, performed in the very first Moomin play Mumintrollet och kometen in Svenska Teatern back in 1949. She toured with Lilla Teatern around the Nordic countries in the end of the 1950s with the play Troll i kulisserna. She also directed the same play in Helsingin Kaupunginteatteri in 2002.

Before the play at Helsingin Kaupunginteatteri Ulfsson directed plays in Sweden, among others Who will comfort Toffle – a children’s play, to which she, a week before the premiere, asked Tove Jansson to write a song for the Groke. Three days before the premiere she got a fax with lyrics to a song that the play’s pianist used to compose music for.

On Saturday Ulfsson reminisced about her memories with Moomin and Tove with palpable excitment. Conflicts and risks are always close by at the theatre and Ulfsson remembers these ingredients to disaster were what intrigued Tove Jansson, just like the feeling we can experience in the Moomin-books. Ulfsson remembers how the shy and somewhat silently talking Tove Jansson was always in a great mood in the theatre world – in a theatre everything is possible.

The script for the first Moomin-play, Mumintrollet och kometen in 1949, was maybe considered a bit confusing, but according to Ulfsson the foremost thing in mind when thinking back on the play are the giant heads the actors had trouble moving and talking in.

Mumintrollet och kometen - kuva Rembrandt_SLS arkiv_SLSA 1270
In the picture: Birgit Strandberg (Moomintroll’s mother), Sigvald Bäsk (Moomintroll’s father),
Olof Hollsten (Snufkin), Måns Fors (Moomintroll), Paul Budsko (The Muddler),
Birgitta Ulfsson (Aunt Hemulen).
Picture: Rembrandt, SLS arkiv, SLSA 1270

The play Troll i kulisserna around ten years later was much more refined and a funny parody where ignorant characters, the Moomins, are thrown into a unknown world – the theatre – which they know nothing of. The play by Lilla Teatern was foremost a success among critics and Ulfsson remember lively how the actors had fun together when they worked on the play.

While the play Troll i kulisserna toured around the Nordic countries Tove Jansson got to perform in it herself. The Lion costume required two people inside it and in Oslo Tove got to be the back-part of the Lion while a Norwegian man was the front. Tove was already back then known as a good dancer and it could clearly be seen when she performed as the back-part of the Lion.

“The back-part seen on the big stage was happy, it danced and jumped – more happily and in a different direction than the front.”, Ulfsson remembers. “The children were naturally very exited about this and to all luck the Lion-suit made out of tricot remained intact and in one piece when the script writer got into her role on stage”, Ulfsson continues.

In the meet and greet on Saturday it was clear from the talk and body language of Birgitta Ulfsson that she has great respect for Tove Jansson, and she mentioned that she above all appreciates and respect Tove as an author. “Withouth authors and storytellers there would be no plays.” Ulfsson concluded.

Muumit teatterissa – exhibition is open until next summer in Teatterimuseo in Helsinki.