From Iceland — Cellophane



Published August 20, 2010

Alarm clock rings. Press the snooze button (but accidentally turn off alarm). Alarm clock doesn’t ring. Wake up twenty minutes late. Kids are still in bed, try to wake them up gently. Pack lunches, pick out clothes (fell asleep watching TV and didn’t plan the day). Yell at kids to hurry up. Out the door, start the car. Forgot the youngest, run inside and grab him. Socks don’t match. Drive 15 km over the speed limit. Late to drop kids off at school. Teacher bitches about disturbing class again. Late to work. Accidentally switched presentation note cards with arithmetic note cards. Day is fucked.
This is the start of a “Cellophane day”—a day where one little mistake can snowball into an inescapable shitstorm. “Cellophane” playwright and actress, Björk Jakobsdóttir claims she used to have these kinds of days all the time when her kids were younger and life moved in fast motion.
Björk grew up in Hafnarfjörður, where she established the Hafnarfjörður Theatre, famed for showing new Icelandic plays and creative adaptations. After a while, Björk found herself playing the same roles—second in command to the leading male character. She started reading monologues and kept thinking to herself, “Why isn’t anybody writing about me?”
Björk’s solution to this question was to leave her kids with her husband for four days and write ‘Cellophane’. When I asked Björk how she came up with the idea for the play, she replied, “I have no idea why I wrote ‘Cellophane’, it just came to me.” Best described as a comedic monologue, ‘Cellophane’ starts out with leading lady, Helen, dressed in lingerie and boxing gloves, dancing and posing to the Rocky theme (or something like it). Delivered like a stand up comic routine, ‘Cellophane’ chronicles a day in the life of a busy mother/wife/career woman. One-liners like “I wish we [humans] just had a mating season” poke fun at ridiculous sex advice in women’s magazines among other modern problems for the middle-class mother of two.
Cellophane worldwide
Cellophane has been shown in over twelve countries, the performance on June 24th at Iðnó marking the first English rendition of the play. Helen, played by Þórunn Lárusdóttir, managed to elicit enough bursts of laughter from the audience to consider ‘Cellophane’s’ translation into English a success. Björk explained that British humour is very similar to Icelandic humour. “The British are very open about their sex lives and the same is true in Iceland. We also go extreme.” As well as appealing to a certain style of humour, Björk adds country-specific cultural references to each performance of Cellophane.
Björk describes how ‘Cellophane’ has been received elsewhere she tells me that the play has been running well in Finland. “It was very interesting to read the reviews from Sicily. I think they are ten years behind us in equality. The play became so political in Sicily when it’s more of having a laugh about it in Iceland.”
When I asked Björk if she thought ‘Cellophane’ specifically targeted a female audience she complained: “When a woman writes a play with a female lead, then people only see it as a ‘woman’s play’. If a man writes a play with a male lead, you don’t hear about how it is only for men. It is no less for men than it is for women.”
Past the plastic wrap
For a play like ‘Cellophane’, a lot depends on the actress’s comedic timing and ability to connect with the audience. During the performance I witnessed, Þórunn stumbled over a few lines but for the most part her performance as Helen was believable. In the silent spaces, when Helen would sigh between conversations with the audience or imaginary characters, she expressed emotional depth that went past the light-hearted jokes. The audience felt Helen’s distress in those moments. Þórunn’s physical expressions carried just as much weight as her ability to deliver lines.
The title ‘Cellophane’ stems from advice taken from a woman’s magazine—the idea being to wrap yourself in cellophane like a sex toy in order to rouse your husband. Björk explains, “Women’s magazines are so stupid. People think they can sell women anything: 10 ways to talk to your vagina, 10 ways to be a better mother, 10 ways to turn on your husband. You would never see this with men: 10 ways to talk to your dick, 10 ways to be a better father, 10 ways to please your woman. We are so hard on ourselves. There is something wrong with us. There is a lack of confidence in us women.”
What is Björk’s secret to ignoring women’s magazines and finding happiness among all those Cellophane days? “1. Choose the father of your children carefully 2. Deal with life through humour rather than guilt. 3. Have a hobby.” I asked Björk what she hoped people would learn from Cellophane. She replied, “Don’t be so hard on yourself; you are not alone. And it’s OK if you only do it two times a month.”
Catch a performance of Cellophane at Iðnó Theatre on Sundays & Thursdays at 20:00.

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