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Politics and Social Criticism on Vienna's Stages
The Example of Osborne and Bond

Ewald Mengel

Political and sociocritical plays, which dominate the British stage in the seventies and eighties of the twentieth century, have been played relatively seldom – or not at all – on Vienna's big stages. The list of dramatists which were ignored by the big stages include Howard Brenton, David Edgar, John Arden, John McGrath, and Timberlake Wertenbaker. Famous playwrights such as Arnold Wesker, Caryl Churchill, David Hare, or Howard Barker are – if at all – only represented with one of their plays. What we are dealing with here is the phenomenon of cultural blockage. This (conscious or unconscious?) blockage mainly concerns the bigger stages and is only partly compensated by the smaller or little theatres. From the late eighties or so, the Theater m.b.H., for example, which, due to lack of communal funding, has closed its gates in the meantime, has staged a number of  Howard Barker's plays in translations by Ingrid Rencher. It has also produced some of Bond's later and less popular dramas, Sommer (1983), Rot, schwarz und ignorant (1992), and Das Verbrechen des 21. Jahrhunderts (2003). The Theater in der Drachengasse dedicated itself to a number of female playwrights, who are also sadly neglected by the big stages, and has produced, for example, Sarah Daniels, Catherine Hayes, Susan Griffen, Jane Martin, Debbie Isitt, Kate O'Riordan, Anne Nelson, and Charlotte Keatley, names which form an impressive list.

The smaller stages' engagement with  political and sociocritical dramatists cannot quite fill out the gap which is left open by the big stages. On the one hand, answers have to be found for the blockage of the above names. Is it the content of their plays which is too political or culturally specific, so that it resists cultural transfer and acculturation? Or is it the conservative policy of the big stages which blocks the circulation of these plays? On the other hand, explanations have to be given for the relative success of John Osborne and Edward Bond even at a time when they are hardly being played any longer in England. The Theater in der Josefstadt and the Volkstheater have been staging Osborne since 1958, starting with Blick zurück im Zorn (Volkstheater), Epitaph for Georg Dillon (Josefstadt 1959), and Ein Patriot für mich – der Fall Redl (Volkstheater 1970). But the Burgtheater/Akademiethater have also been contributing to Osborne's success in Vienna: Richter in eigener Sache was staged by the Akademietheater in 1965, and Der Entertainer was put on only recently at the Burgtheater in 2003. Bond's plays staged by the Burgtheater/Akademiethater are Trauer zu früh (guest performance by Cafétheater 9 January 1972), Lear (16 December 1973) and Die See (10 April 1975 and 17 June 2000). The Volkstheater premiered Das Bündel on 2 March 1980 and Gerettet on 4 June, 1988. The rest of the Vienna Bond performances is contributed by the smaller stages: Die Hochzeit des Papstes (Theater der Courage 1975), Sommer (Theater m.b.H. 1983), and Lear (Schauspielhaus Wien 1984).

An analysis of the reception of Osborne and Bond in Munich and Berlin will serve the purpose of comparison.



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