«BRACK IMPERieT». About «Hedda Gabler» by Vinge/Müller at Det Norske Teatret Oslo

By Thomas Oberender

When I asked the friendly salesman at the ticket counter of Det Norske Teatret how long the performance of Hedda Gabler by Vegard Vinge and Ida Müller lasts, he said, officially four hours, but we gave the artists carte blanche at our house. On the last evenings, it was about four hours, but each evening is different and shows something different from Ibsen’s play. And I don’t have to worry, the artists won’t provide a break, but everyone can come and go as he wants, like to take the drinks into the hall, that’s fine and you don’t have to have a guilty conscience. Has he already seen the performance? Yes, two days ago, the young man replied, pause, and it had been the most intense theatrical experience of his life. After that, he didn’t want to see anyone at first. In leaving, I asked myself when I last heard something like this at a box office and thought the long trip to Oslo was worth it, to a city whose hotel rooms are priceless this weekend and the universal summer tourism, national Youth meetings, and a Pride Parade fill all parks, clubs, and pubs with young people. Although alcohol sales stop at half past eleven o’clock, no one seemed to be sober on the streets in the evening.

Det Norske Teatret is a unit in the Norwegian theatre dedicated mainly to the performance of plays written in Nynorsk. This New Norwegian is, in addition to Bokmal (book language), a purely written language, which was invented in the middle of the 19th century by the linguist Ivar Aasen to develop an umbrella language to cover the various regional dialects of Norwegian, which the Norwegians still speak today. Nynorsk has become internationally known in recent years mainly through the plays of Jon Fosse, who turned this artificial language into an artistic language and leads his characters in this language to the boundaries of spoken expression. The invention of Nynorsk helped Norwegians invent themselves in the 19th century because, after 400 years of Danish rule, their own language became an important element of the young nation’s new identity. Politics and society in Norway are still occupied today with this critical and liberating »national project,” and so are its artists, including Vegard Vinge and Ida Müller. The fact that their work in particular has been bitterly attacked and defamed by right-wing populists in recent years is not only explained by the radical aesthetics of their productions but also stems from their ongoing confrontation with the dark sides of the seemingly enlightened Norwegian welfare state. Vinge/Müller’s preoccupation with the assassin Anders Behring Breivik, corruption, the political shift to the right, or the censorship of performances critical of the government has been part of their plays for years. Their performance is also most appropriate for a house with this specific sensitivity to language and history.  Thus they have  combined the announcement of Hedda Gabler on the theatre’s website with the call »Free Julian Assange.”