Thrilling theatre: Norwegian National Ballet in The Hamlet Complex Redux

Opera House, Oslo
November 19, 2022

Hamlet, Shakespeare’s much quoted play has spawned a vast industry of offshoots, hybrids and curious bastards. Alan Lucien Øyen, like the kid in the candy store, has allowed his fertile imaginations to run riot in an evening of theatrical wizardry.

The dancers of the Norwegian National are joined by actors and filmmakers on the generous dimensions of the opera house stage, extended to its full 40-metre depth. A huge screen serves to project the camera’s view, that hovers intimately on the performers or you can sit back, taking in the whole carnivalesque atmosphere on stage.

Simon McNally as Laertes with Klara Mårtensson as Ophelia
in Hamlet Complex Redux by Alan Lucien Øyen
Photo Erik Berg

Dropping all temporal barriers, Hamlet is portrayed experiencing an abusive childhood with Sigmund Freud offering little help while mother, Gertrude, is devoid of any mitigating circumstances. In two hugely impressive performances, actress Kate Pendry in a central role as Queen Elizabeth I and Andrew Wale in various guises as Claudius, Death and a Medium, add period flavour and bring welcome ballast to the disparate scenes.

The leading characters have imagined past and future lives moving in and out of the play and shifting shapes. Silas Henriksen, an archetypal Hamlet, is a high octane, troubled Prince, given to bouts of morose self-reflection but most often striding out his anguish in fierce choreographic language. His relationship with Ophelia forms a central theme of the work.

Norwegian National Ballet in Hamlet Complex Redux
with Silas Henriksen (Hamlet), here with Whitney Jensen (Ophelia), right
Photo Erik Berg

Shakespeare’s version of Ophelia, Klara Mårtensson, is a sad soul. Visibly manipulated by Laertes, (Simon McNally) and Polonius, (Douwe Dekkers) notably in her final moment as they wrap her in her winding sheet. Øyen gives two further versions, the child Ophelia sitting on stage in the opening scene playing with flowers and in Emma Lloyd, a thoughtful interpretation as the older, wiser woman that Ophelia never became.

The boy Hamlet, hugely talented Mathias Tannæs, delivers, ‘What a piece of work is man’ in a radiant high register that overrides any irony. Then there are the child players who act out the murder of Hamlet before being send packing by an irate Queen Bess.

Daniel Proietto as the Ghost in Hamlet Complex Redux
Photo Erik Berg.

Daniel Proietto, also credited as choreographic assistant, is the Ghost. He moves with the fluid grace of an otherworldly being, persistently on the periphery of the action. The blandly labelled, Beige Group, get an important piece of well-structured dance seeming to embody Hamlet’s whirlpooling thoughts. The duel between Hamlet and Laertes, and Laertes dance of despair on Ophelia’s death were other strong choreographic moments.

The stage is dominated by a construction nicknamed, ‘the telescope’ from designer, Åsmund Færavaag. Like a giant wooden picture frame, the centre is filled with five concentric frames that can move in and out creating a range of platforms and amazing lighting effects. Credit also to Henrik Skram, the award winning film composer who delivers a score that illuminates the action without dominating.

Alan Lucien Øyen’s Hamlet Complex Redux
In the cemetery
Photo Erik Berg

The work ends, as all good Hamlet productions should, with a stage full of dead bodies, the Ghost quietly kneeling at the back. The Queen, now a sad old woman, disrobed and finally accepts death peer into the abyss. Ophelia lies down to die with the child Ophelia watching over her. The boy Hamlet is still searching for his father: ‘Is that enough?’ he asks. ‘It’s all we have’, comes the answer.

This is Øyen’s third version of the production and it’s a momentous undertaking. There is simply too much to absorb in one viewing, but the brilliant stage pictures and the fine performances make for total immersion in thrilling theatre.