June Hyde

June Hyde draws on her bilingual upbringing to inform a kaleidoscope of performances.

standing with her toes at the edge of the stage, June Hyde turns to ask the lighting operator in Finnish if we could have more illumination. A brief pause, before gentle light fades the rows of seats into focus, and we commence her photo shoot. Here, at the focal point of Helsinki City Theatre, she is at home. Hyde effortlessly switches back to English, with her perfect British accent giving little away of the fact she has lived the overwhelming majority of her life in Finland.

Born into a bilingual family in England, Hyde was three when her Finnish mother and English father decided to move here. With a childhood spent alternating between translating what was going on around her to her father and honing her love of performing, as she neared the end of her teens, she soon found herself in London learning the acting craft at drama school. Jobs as a receptionist, cleaner and doing market research, soon followed, as she waited for her big break amidst the occasional acting job in advertising and on stage.

That was to come. But not in the place she may have imagined. An offer from Joensuu City Theatre drew her back to Finland. She moved back to Helsinki and soon was being broadcast to households around the country, starring in the television soap, Salutat elämät. From here, things quickly escalated for her, as her career began to take off on stages locally, and in Spain and Germany.

SixDegrees sat down with the actor to hear about what it was growing up in a bilingual home, why the local acting scene could do with some cultural spices and the difficulties of attempting to speak English with a Finnish accent.

What drew you to acting in the first place?

It was my grandmother in England. I travelled with my dad quite a lot to see her. Together we watched a lot of 1930s and ‘40s shows and films. I would eat custard and apple pie and watch them with her. Actors like Katherine Hepburn who had a quick, witty way of delivering lines, was sassy but classy with lots of independence and self irony. The first time I learned how to express myself was without language, piano playing. I started singing when I entered a TV singing competition. They asked me to sing in Finnish, as it was a children’s show. I sang Putting On the Ritz and Love Potion Number Nine in English. Katri Helena was presenting it. She was very friendly and nice, and in the end they let me do it in English. That was how I first started. Then as a teenager I started my own multicultural theatre group called ‘Pimeyden Nauriit’. It gave me a direction, a place to feel good about myself, a way to focus my teenage angst into creativity. My mother became the director of the theatre company which retrospectively has been a very important factor in both of our lives. It was clever of her to participate in my hobby because it allowed us to get closer at a ‘dangerous age’ of 17 an on. It’s amazing how many of her youngsters went into professional theatre in different capacities, directing, acting, stage design.

There was no way I was every going to do anything else. I feel really lucky that I knew what I wanted to do at such an early age. I don’t think I am particularly ambitious with my career. I guess I shouldn’t really say that. This is the only thing I want to do. Even when I hate it I love it.

Date and place of birth: 11 February 1976,
Family: Husband and two daughters.

When I was young I…liked to tap dance.
Language is…fun, but it’s just a form
When I’m on stage I…feel at home.
Something I haven’t done yet is…go to Africa.

When was the last time performed in English?

I sing in English and do a lot of voice work in English. I still do use it.

What kind of voice work do you do?

[immediately breaking into strikingly professional voice without missing a beat] Welcome to Finnair.

Ha! How does it feel when you board a plane and hear your own voice, do you feel you are welcomed to Finnair?

Yeah. [laughs]

Your father, Leslie Hyde, is known for his work in the 1980s with the English Theatre Company. Was being surrounded by artistic types a source of inspiration growing up?

Yeah, certainly. Growing up in O’Malley’s and Molly Malone’s where my father performed, it was quite different there, and still is from the Finnish bars. If the Finnish daddies hang out in bars it doesn’t quite have the same… obviously they drank, sometimes more than others. But I don’t really remember that. It was great as a kid getting to hang out in bars and watch them do shows.

What was the response like?

It was good. It wasn’t that recognised, as it was usually the same people who went to see them, along with the regular customers. There wasn’t that much stand-up in the ‘80s. Actually, there weren’t that many foreigners in the ‘80s. If they did it now, it would be different. There were some really good sketches and writing.

How was it growing up in a bilingual family?

I felt very different. We always had foreigners in the house where we lived. We would go to the shop and my dad back then couldn’t speak any Finnish and I would translate. I was four or five years old. I became very aware of that. It stayed with me still today when I’m acting. It’s interesting that I have grown up in a bilingual family and I am acting in a bilingual community – Finnish and Swedish; a bilingual audience.

Were there times you didn’t want to translate, or translated incorrectly for your father?

Yeah. I could be hugely embarrassed by him, I mean his ‘otherness’. I can be quite shy and so I blush several times a day. I think it has something to do with that time of being different somehow. Because I look Finnish, I wouldn’t carry my identity in my skin. Sometime people would say something to me in Finnish and I wouldn’t know what they were talking about, as I had been living in England. ‘How come you don’t know this show or that show on telly?’ That still happens now.

Back when I was younger, my parents still hadn’t made a choice to stay here in Finland and so they didn’t commit to being here. So, I wouldn’t say I have had a particularly Finnish upbringing, though my mum is Finnish. Somehow they were always going to leave. It’s so important to be happy where you are and each country you are in. If you are not, then find a way to be happy where you are, because curiosity can heal. It’s very important to be curious about the culture you are living in.

Where has curiosity led you?

Um. [long pause] To a lot of foolish things. But I have achieved a lot of good thing as well. It has helped me understand me a lot and to take risks. I can’t really be more specific than that.

Is this something you take to the stage: taking risks?

That’s interesting. I’m just learning to do that now. I think I have been very obedient. Only now I am starting to own the right to my art and own ideas. It probably has something to do with my age.

It must be a nice feeling to come from a time where you are being told how to act, to then doing things that people respond to; quite empowering.

Yes, absolutely.

What goes through your mind onstage?

A thousand things…

Like, ‘Darn, I forgot to buy the milk?’

No. [laughs] Regarding space, audience, their energy, how I am going to deliver the next line. At the same time I’m observing how the next person is dropping their line, anticipating what is going to be the next scene; what is the main part of the story. What is important here and now. Sometimes it’s all blurred by, ‘They hate me, and they also hate me.’ Other times it’s pure bliss and you are empty and just there and it’s the best. Sometimes if I am tired, or upset about something, it is fantastic to come to work and put on lovely clean clothes that somebody’s made for you. Somebody does your hair, and you’ve just got two hours where you know exactly what you’ll be thinking about, which is just the lines someone has written for you, or you have written yourself. It’s a really, really great experience.

Is there a role that you have really identified with and found easy to step into?

I have found that comedy comes quite naturally. Also, playing Juliet in Romeo and Juliet was quite fantastic – to die every night and to love and be loved so much.

Have you had roles that you have struggled with?

Yeah. It’s usually been to do with the group, what the director wants and wondering what we are going to do with this play; how is it going to work? I love tempo. It might have something to do with the European way of acting. I have watched a lot of theatre in Germany and France. I’m going back to England in two weeks to see performances. I find my inner rhythm is quite fast onstage.

Do you wish to instil acting into your children?

No. It’s nice they can come here to the theatre and visit, but, no.

You’re willing to just let them be?

Yeah, but it’s not looking good. [laughs] Everyday one of them asks to be in an English show or something. Actually, I speak English with my kids, as I want to give them the gift of speaking English. It’s great, when we go back to England that they can play with others in the park. It’s good now when they are little. But when they grow up it is going to be hard.

Would you like to live abroad with them?

I would, but it’s really difficult with kids. You have to have more money than just being able to eat chocolate and bread, as you can when you are on your own.

I suppose also that there’s fact that the system for looking after children here and educating them is so good…

Well, I’ve always hated school. I detest school. I think it’s really sad that I have to place my children there. I know that people say it’s the best system here and it’s fantastic, but bullshit is what I say.

But Finland is regularly ranked number one in education, they are exporting education models aboard…

And the suicide rate is what here? [long pause] No, I’m not here to slag off the country. As I said you have to find happiness wherever you are.

What are you up to now?

I am doing a French comedy called Hotelli Paradiso at the Helsinki City Theatre with Santeri Kinnunen, a very good Finnish comic actor. I’m also doing something called Metsäperkele, directed by Kari Heiskanen. It’s an interesting project about Finnish industrial history set in the 1800s. It’s done in a very vibrant way where the ensemble change characters in a second. I get to play about 10 different people in it. I must say I enjoy the arrogant man in a top hat the most. Next, I will be working on a Jane Austen play. Basically I work at Helsinki City Theatre and have a contract here. It’s a big theatre where you get to do all sorts of different projects from drama to comedy, dance and children’s theatre. However, I don’t get to use my English. I’d really love to do a theatre group where everyone who worked there was from a different country, or with a different culture or something.

I find it a lovely plus when you work with people from different backgrounds. That would be also a good thing to do to be able to employ people who don’t necessarily speak Finnish. Then you could do dance, or music or theatre in Finnish or in English. Or perhaps some other language. There are lots of Russians and Somalis here, for example. It is something I’d love to do.

How different is this idea to that of theatre companies such as the FinnBrits?

There’s the professional aspect there that I am interested in, and having your own space. I have met many professional writers and people through my work.

Are there many international thespians here in Finland?

No, I think the traditional theatre here is very white and language orientated. I miss that because I went to an international high school and living in London, I really notice it here. It’s very…Finnish. Let’s see what happens. Now, there is a lot of circus and modern theatre and art, and it is changing.

It’s actually funny that I can’t do a proper Finnish accent when speaking English. They always asks me to lessen my English accent, and speak more with a Finnish delivery. [attempts a frankly hilarious stereotypical delivery] I can’t do it.

James O’Sullivan