Mari Emmus: Cosmos – entertaining stories about Estonians and Russians

Some topics are more complicated than others. You know, the ones that are mostly treated in opinion pieces and talking of which most likely raises everyone’s blood pressure – cohabitation law, pay gap, or integration politics. But who can bother to voluntarily deal with those difficult subjects. Especially now in the autumn when the days are getting shorter, heating bills are getting larger, and all the last year’s reflectors have gone missing again. One would want something lighter, easier, and more entertaining. 

Tallinn City Theatre and Russian Theatre have taken up the solving of one of the complicated issues despite the arriving autumn. The performance “Cosmos”, which is played in Lindakivi Cultural Centre, invites the audience to watch funny stories about Estonians and Russians living in Estonia.

Enthralling music played in the background before the performance – Estonian songs were followed by Russian songs and vice versa. Rather cool, the list of these songs should be up somewhere – like in the brochure. I’d listen to it again. When the musical assortment ended, the first sketch started against the backdrop of a velvet curtain. The pace, forethought, and good humour – in its best meaning – were prevalent in almost all the short pieces. I only missed the point in one or two stories. The range of topics on the stage was quite wide. Both the issues from yesterday and today, difficult choices and complicated situations were covered with situation and linguistic comedy, all viewed, at the same time, from different perspectives. For example, I really liked how sincerely a joint view on the Second World War was found on the stage: “There was a war and Germany lost it.” From the viewpoint of historians and the school programme, this finding is not sufficient, of course, but sitting in that dark hall I felt that everything is possible. If only for one evening.

I was more deeply impressed by the sketch in which a father asked her daughter’s Russian boyfriend on their first meeting, whose side he would take if the Russians invaded Estonia. Instead of choosing sides, the young man asked a question in return: whose side would the father be on if Hiiumaa and Saaremaa were at war. Creating an analogy pointedly illustrated the moral complexity of this fictitious choice and, in fact, the absence of a correct answer. A long monologue delivered by Anu Lamp about the peculiarities of being an Estonian, in which Estonian was mixed with Russian, was a hit as well. Leafing through the brochure later, the monologue turned out to be a 2004 poem by fs – “who is he and where is he coming from.” With all the seriousness of being an Estonian, I absolutely agree with fs, who says that Estonians are as passionate as Italians – only towards the inside. I was also left haunted by the lines saying that in order to survive in this tough country one needs two things: culture and strong alcohol…

While the advertising for the performance said that the play takes place in Estonian and Russian simultaneously, I assumed that synchronised translation on headphones or subtitles on the screen like in opera would be used. It appeared, however, that instead of a screen, two equal languages were represented on the stage continuously – in turns and overlapping. Just like we live in Estonia together – side by side and at the same time. There should be more performances, which treat things as they are with the help of humour. Remarkable density of thought could be seen behind the sketches that were visually superbly solved. I cannot say if the skill to bring one’s ideas equally to audiences of two different cultural and language backgrounds is the result of a lot of work, talented team, or the combination of both. And yet it doesn’t matter anyway. What is important is the hope that the standing ovation at the end of the performance gives the creators strength to continue treating such complicated subjects in the future. Despite the darkening nights and increasing heating bills.

Picture by Siim Vahur