Edgy and gripping: Stephen Langridge’s new Hamlet

13 April 2016

Stephen Langridge‘s new production of Ambroise Thomas’ Hamlet at Gothenburg Opera has been attracting much attention. Langridge’s modernised take on the opera has been praised for its clear story-telling, its edginess and the gripping, thriller-like atmosphere it creates.

The production features the two different endings that Thomas composed for Paris and London, the former ending with Hamlet being crowned king, the latter following the rather more tragic Shakespearian ending.
Performances on 9, 17 and 23 April, and on 6, 15 and 21 May feature the Paris ending, while the London ending can be seen on 15, 20 and 27 April, and on 8 and 19 May.

Under the baton of Henrik Schaefer, the cast also features Rayfield Allied artist Paul Whelan in the role of Claudius, alongside Thomas Oliemans, Ida Falk Winland, Katerina Karneus. Whelan’s performance has been described as one of “vocal splendour” (Aftonbladet)

Selected reviews:

Stephen Langridge ... transferred the plot skilfully into the present tense without losing the horrid activities at the Danish court in the past: during the dark orchestral intro, the audience became a silent observer of the murder of the Danish king by his brother Claudius, using a lethal injection. A cold-blooded murderer such as this considers himself safe and relies on a surveillance state. ... The climax of this impressive production was the theatrical company who, prompted by Hamlet, re-enacts the murder of the previous king in front of the entire court.
S. Martens, Opernglas

Langridge has found canny ways around some of the score’s minor weaknesses: he had the chorus sniff cocaine before one unlikely modulation in Act I; and he plays Hamlet’s drinking song in Act II as something darkly desperate (for many it’s Thomas’s biggest act of sacrilege). The best bits (the end of the second act, the trio at the start of Act III and Ophelie’s demise) can, with the right direction, astonish. Langridge provided the right direction, both for these highpoints, and elsewhere. His contemporary Danish setting succeeds in banishing Shakespeare while his vision of Hamlet’s psychological demise broadens the limited emotional range of the opera by tapping the play (but not obviously). ... Langridge’s transferral of the gravediggers’ scene to a mortuary points up the tragedy that the score can’t quite project, and his directing of Ophelia’s drowing is spellbinding.
Andreas Mellor, Opera Now ****

In Langridge’s staging, the story has been moved to modern Denmark. The delirious royalists stand against the anti-nationalist street rallies. Fear is everywhere, as well as delusion and aggression. The thriller atmosphere in the scene with the Ghost almost reaches the chill of horror master David Cronenberg. To bring him up on a screen at a security gate is really good. It is one of the sophisticated staging solutions that make this Hamlet extremely tension-charged and Langridge’s most impressive production in Sweden so far.
Martin Nyström, DN kultur

At the Gothenburg Opera director Stephen Langridge, who is also head of the opera in Gothenburg, tried to bring back the policies of the drama again purely scenic. He has placed the production in contemporary Denmark’s monarchy, politics and barricades. The aesthetic is very much one of hoodies, jeans, corrugated sheets, spray cans and plastic. The ghost appears in a surveillance camera in a security gate. It was successfully gripping.
Ella Petersson, SVT

Stephen Langridge’s production emphatically marks that we are in Denmark. The chorus of fickle people are at first happily waving Danish flags to King Claudius and Queen Gertrude. The people soon discover, however, like Hamlet, that something is “rotten” in the state of Denmark, as it says on the placard while Hamlet is hiding in the crowd with the help of a cap and hooded jacket. Properly entertaining - but Langridge’s Danish politicized modernization becomes a most poignant observation, where Thomas’ opera is in the first place a chamber play about a timeless and gruesome family history.
Lennart Bromander, Aftonbladet

Under Stephen Langridge’s direction, the historical Denmark has become an extremely contemporary, and at the same time both an ugly and a beautiful country, with its police force and the red-white flags, the X-ray screenings for the royal visit, with memorials, flowers and candles in the streets, and gravediggers who have been turned into pathologists; here we first see Hamlet’s father’s ghost through surveillance cameras. The story-telling is clear and unmissable.
Per Feltzin, Sverige Radio

This update to our time is edgy. And it’s impressive.
Gunilla Brodrej, Expressen

(Photos: Mats Becker)

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