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Viennese Versions of Beckett and Pinter

Ewald Mengel

Doubtlessly, the plays of Beckett and Pinter can be considered classics of modern British drama. This applies especially to Waiting for Godot and The CaretakerWaiting for Godot, premiered on 5 January 1953 in the Théâtre du Babylone in Paris,  made Beckett famous as a dramatist. It was translated into many different languages and transferred onto stages all around the world. Pinter began to write plays in 1957. The Caretaker, Pinter's second full-length play, had its first night on 27 April 1960 and, in the long run, turned out to be his most successful play.

This project will concentrate on the reception of the two plays in Vienna. Warten auf Godot was produced on 8 April 1954 by the Parkring Theater (now defunct), only one year after its first night in the Théâtre du Babylone and even one and a half years before it premiered in London in August 1955. The next staging of Warten auf Godot in Vienna took place 1 February 1962 on one of the smaller stages of the Theater in der Josefstadt. In 1970, Warten auf Godot arrived at the big stage of the Burgtheater (with two performances during the Wiener Festwochen by the Kunigla Dramatiska Teatern Stockholm on 10 and 13 June), and was subsequently forgotten by Vienna's theatre directors, it seems, with the exception of a few productions on smaller stages: on 30/31 May 1990 on the little stage of the Theater Brett by Studio Bonton, Prague, during the Festival of Czechoslovakian Theatre; by students of the Max Reinhardt Seminar 2 December 1991 and 14 December 2001; by Hubsi Kramer in the derelict factory Altes Kabelwerk on 4 June 2001. Subsequently, Warten auf Godot is allied with social projects. In 2003 Michalke put it on  again at the Altes Kabelwerk with a cast consisting of asylum seekers.

Pinter's Der Hausmeister was first staged in Vienna as early as 24 October 1962 at the Akademietheater. Thereafter, the Vienna theatre audience had to wait for more than 30 years to see another production of The Caretaker (30 November 1993) at the Ensemble Theater (Petersplatz) by the London City Theatre. On 17 February 1996, Der Hausmeister was sent touring the stages of Vienna's outskirts by a theatre group of the Volkstheater. The career of Pinter's Der Hausmeister was 'crowned' by the play's premiere on the big stage of the Theater in der Josefstadt 3 April 2003, a production which was to give the local actor and celebrity Otto Schenk the opportunity of an impressive good-by performance. But unfortunately this production had a negative reception by most reviewers.

All in all, the production history mentioned above makes it clear that two of the most famous classical British plays were not very successful on Vienna's stages. The reaction of the Viennese audiences to the plays' first nights is a mixture of fascination, consternation, and protest. This demands an explanation. The hypothesis is that the lack of understanding which is clearly expressed in the reviews is 'home-made', that is, it depends on the specific quality of the Viennese audiences' expectations and a number of errors and misunderstandings in the course of the translation and reception processes. The aim is to reconstruct the different productions of these plays on Vienna's stages as comprehensively as possible, beginning with an analysis of the translations used, a reconstruction of the stage text, and its realisation through the body text of the actors. A close analysis of the reviews will help to lay open the principles on which the reviewers' negative reactions are based. What can be shown is that the reviews resemble 'palimpsests of opinions' which reflect not only earlier stagings of the plays but also the world-wide echoes which these plays have caused. The reviewers show an awareness that they are dealing with famous classics, but this does not sway them in their (mostly negative) opinion. By thus concentrating on the reception history of  two plays within a time-span of approximately 50 years (40 years with regard to Pinter), the changing fate of classics on a foreign stage is to be described in detail.



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