The oldest theatre in Finland
Around 1810 the Swede C.G. Bonuvier built what probably was the country’s first real theatre house in Turku, very close to where the current theatre house is located now. However, Bonuvier’s theatre house was totally destroyed in the great fire of 1827. According to the city architect P.J. Gylich’s plans, a new theatre building made out of wood was built at roughly the same place. In the beginning of the 1830s it hosted many of the touring foreign theatre groups of that time.
The thought of a new, modern theatre house had grown amongst the theatre lovers in Turku and the driving force of its realisation was doctor Nils Henrik Pinello and the head of division of the national board of trade, Abraham Kingelin. Plans for the new theatre were once again ordered from Gylich, but the final design of the facades was made by the famous architect C.L. Engel. The decision to build the new theatre house was made in 1836, and the new theatre house was initiated for its use as quickly as the 21.1.1839. The theatre house, which still is used, is our country’s oldest.
During all these years of service, small repairs and some modernisation in the interior of the theatre house have been made. Greater repairs and expansions of the theatre house were made in the 1860s. At that time gaslights, water pipes and fireplaces where added. The great fire in March 1881 made a great deal of damage on the interior and on the walls facing the yard. A decision was made to repair the building according to the city architect´s of that time, C.H. von Heideken, plans. However, his new interior got mixed reviews, and it was not until the modernisations that where made towards the end of the 1890s that, among other things, the theatre auditorium got the character it has today.
During the first decades of the 1900s the actors appearing on Svenska inhemska teatern’s, the Swedish domestic theatre’s, stage in Turku where touring groups, at first mostly made up of Swedish actors but later of ensembles from Finnish theatres as well. During the years 1894-1919 mainly domestic actors used the building as their own theatre. Even Turun Suomalainen Teatteri, the Finnish theatre in Turku, had their activity there as subtenants from 1918 to 1928.
Svenska inhemska teatern was succeeded in 1919 by Åbo Svenska Teater, which is run by Åbo Svenska Teaterförening with a board of directors as executive body. The theatre building itself is owned by a real estate company, whose majority of shares is owned by Stiftelsen för Åbo Akademi.
The theatre’s ensemble has for natural reasons been relatively small, but many artists who have later made themselves known in the theatre world in Finland as well as in Sweden, has been a part of it. Thanks to the energetic and far-sighted activity in the house we can happily say that a steady flow of audience has been and is coming in from the small communities around Turku, and that there’s still a growing interest from the Finnish speaking theatre enthusiasts as well. The smart play choices have also contributed to the theatre’s position in the theatre life of Turku.