On September 7, 2018, the production “Ship of Fools” premiered at the Theatre NO99. The story full of euphoric power and beauty about a man who sailed the seas on old ships, or the story about the madmen who traveled along with him, or the story about us, Estonians? Wild Captain, also known as Kihnu Jõnn or Enn Uuetoa (1848–1913), was a real person and sailed the seas without a compass and a sextant. Does this person share similarities with the Wild Captain Jörgen Liik enacts? Or is it even necessary?
More than half a century has passed since Juhan Smuul wrote “Ship of Fools”, but yet his story rises to the surface again despite its distance. Tiit Ojasoo lets it speak to us in a powerful and even a little bit frightening way. What is the sea associated with today? Finland? Estonians as the foreign workers in Finland? A perfect hit below the belt is the Finnish-speaking Anna Lipponen as Fortuna on the stage, on a ship called Fortuna. Or does the sea associates with Estonians who, after joining the European Union in 2004, could choose any place in Europe, later almost in the whole world to be the place where to live and work? And suddenly, we were freer than ever before, more ambitious and demanding than it was allowed in the 1990s. A little bit like the crew members of the Wild Captain. Free from the burden of land, women and responsibilities.
Who is the Wild Captain? I wouldn’t dare to think that he is an alter ego of Tiit Ojasoo like Veiko Märka suggested. He has been created as part of something larger – the ship to which he belongs. Jörgen Liik as the Wild Captain is strong and fragile at the same time, he is a crew and a captain at the same time. This is due to the fact that the stage on which the captain is moving around becomes a character itself and engages the actors. A simple plank that just moves up and down becomes just like a painting and the lines on it, it means the actors, make it come alive. But unlike a painting or a regular stage, it moves and becomes a character that reacts to the bodies or hooks that are on it.
In addition, Ene-Liis Semper’s costumes, as well as the old age of captain’s companions, make all characters very similar to each other and sometimes the Wild Captain disappears among others. However, becoming a mass is not a bad thing, considering the meaning of the story and the wave, which literally carries everyone towards the common goal. Jörgen Liik as the Wild Captain is part of his ship and part of his crew, he leads, but sometimes he is also led by others. If Accordion (played by Marika Vaarik) appears as a rat, Wild Captain should know why. But no – he lets Accordion justify their choices, in other words, he allows himself to be led.
This dynamic stage, similar to the sea wave, becomes so entertaining and loveable that it is almost weird to accept the quieter tones, monotony. The wave carries you away, makes you laugh and, in fact, fear for the actors who enliven the room with their whole bodies. But if the plank on the stage stops, it’s a whole different story. Major becomes minor, which mirrors the fears that accompany the captain even without the involvement of other people who either allow or forbid him to go to the sea. At this point, Wild Captain is alone and fragile – it makes him the character who is not part of the crew that flies on the waves. There is not even a common wave that would carry them. Now he must stand on his own two feet. Jörgen Liik enacts this loner very powerfully until the end. It feels like he is filling the whole stage. Whether it be fishing or a glance at the audience, it all bears a lot of weight.
But what is missing? The crew? The Wild Captain? Perhaps the crew did not understand what they wanted/want? Do we understand what we want? We, Estonians? Where to get this wind or rain that the Wild Captain’s companions were waiting for? In some ways, moving around on the ship created waves, at least those joyful waves that made you laugh and smile when you looked at the actors on the stage. Several actors created a decent wave which carried all of us. Both the actors and the audience. And finally, all that the Wild Captain needed was a wave that would unite his crew.
The Wild Captain says to the depressed crew members: “Did I bring you here? You as well as myself were brought here by our daily bread which in this evil world urges man much more effectively than any whip could ever do.” This sentence by Smuul seems true to this day. But it sounds a lot more brutal in the modern world. Because at first, the sea gives you freedom, but then it dictates its own rhythm, which you have to follow in order to survive or you’ll fade away. Even the tedious times, just like the stormy ones, has to be outlived together, on the common wave, it’s easier that way. But sometimes we are all looking for our personal wave and we abandon the captain who wanted to take us to Brazil.
Tiit Ojasoo managed to move me with the quest of that wave on which we become one. The Wild Captain was admirable when he engaged others because then he literally made waves. But he also engaged when he was alone, without his crew members, because he was still a captain.