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Hugo von Hofmannsthal Jedermann

The Play about the Death of the Rich Man



  • 19 July 2014, 21:00


  • 17 July 2014, 21:00
  • 20 July 2014, 17:00
  • 22 July 2014, 21:00
  • 27 July 2014, 21:00
  • 03 August 2014, 21:00
  • 06 August 2014, 17:00
  • 10 August 2014, 17:00
  • 12 August 2014, 21:00
  • 15 August 2014, 21:00
  • 16 August 2014, 17:00
  • 19 August 2014, 21:00
  • 25 August 2014, 17:00
  • 27 August 2014, 17:00
  • 29 August 2014, 21:00

Print programme (PDF)


Brian Mertes, Julian Crouch, Stage Director
Julian Crouch, Sets, Masks and Puppets
Olivera Gajic, Costumes
Martin Lowe, Musical Direction, Orchestration
David Tushingham, Dramaturgy
Dan Scully, Lighting
Matt McKenzie for Autograph, Sound
Jesse J. Perez, Choreography


Hugo von Hofmannsthal finished writing Jedermann in 1911, only three years before the beginning of the First World War. At this point a catastrophe had been looming for some time which cannot be explained by either the victors’ attempts to apportion blame or the efforts of the defeated to defend themselves: the great powers of Europe, Russia and the United States were busy dividing up the world between them. The war was caused by the collision of imperialistic greed, a lust for power, addiction to profit and chauvinism on all sides. The means these lords of the earth used to exercise and maintain their power were unscrupulous and murderous and they led directly to the ultimate consequence: war. 
At the same time and with a malicious logic, the nations of Europe bloomed as never before. Stefan Zweig writes in The World of Yesterday: ‘Europe had never been stronger, richer or more beautiful, never had it believed with more feeling in a better future.’ And of the year 1914: ‘Everywhere I looked lay flat and bright before me in this, my twenty-third year; the world offered itself up in this brilliant summer, as beautiful and sensual as a delicious fruit. And I loved it for the sake of its present and its even greater future. Then, on 28th June 1914, that shot fell in Sarajevo and smashed that world of safety and creative reason in which we had been educated, grown up and were at home into a thousand pieces in a single second.’
Looking for meaning and urging caution in this age of brilliance, Hofmannsthal, once the hope of the Viennese avant-garde, turned to the darkness of the Middle Ages and wrote a mystery play specifically for an enlightened, big city audience. This attempt was destroyed by the critics as an obscure anachronism and literary monstrosity. The audience on the other hand accepted the play with wonderful enthusiasm. Little has changed to alter this memorable discrepancy to this day.
The untimeliness of Hofmannsthal and Reinhardt’s undertaking is, however, truly remarkable and it is perhaps only pos-sible to imagine it in the climate of a time whose ethos was completely different. The sophisticates of a decadent elite who referred to their souls as the psyche and who were willing to entrust their well-being to an analyst rather than faith must have felt almost insulted both aesthetically and philosophically by these wooden rhyming couplets and simple message of salvation.
A world obsessed with progress, celebrating the triumphant advance of technical in-nova-tion, science and economics, did not want its fun spoilt by the medieval notion of ‘vanitas’. All is vain and transient? But how? History seemed to be a crescendo, or rather a never-ending ascent. Stock market speculators who cheerfully drew their con-siderable dividends from Skoda, Krupp and Schneider-Creusot without a pang of conscience were not going to take much notice of any warnings about Mammon’s demonic powers.
Nevertheless – or maybe because of this – Jedermann was an enormous success when premiered in the Circus Schumann in Berlin and was soon produced at many other German-speaking theatres.
Jedermann has more in common with its time than the intellectual elite of that time wished to acknowledge, and Hofmannsthal’s view of the past turned out to be a prophetic one. Hedonistic and bursting with vitality, occupied with building projects, affairs, parties and finances, Jedermann is in the very prime of life when Death calls upon him. Finity and eternity. Damnation and salvation are suddenly the questions he has to ask himself. He has to bow in humility to a higher power and go to his grave ‘naked and bare’.
Max Reinhardt – in a fashion which appeared to be similarly anachronistic – started his project of founding the Salzburg Festival and staging Jedermann there during the war. In 1920, amid post-war depression, famine and inflation, in an Austria which was utterly transformed and demoralised, the first Jedermann was indeed performed in the Cathedral Square with Alexander Moissi in the title role. The stage was built out of timber reclaimed from a wartime prison camp. The actors were unpaid, the proceeds went to charitable causes and Reinhardt and Hofmannsthal wanted the founding of the festival to be regarded as ‘work for peace’.
It is not Jedermann’s confessional links to the Catholic church nor Hofmannsthal’s conservative folkloristic thinking which have ensured the play’s survival. Nor is its success the result of the audience’s demand for salvation or the promise of salvation under the temptingly convenient terms of achieving grace and immortality simply through lip service.
It is our concealed unease at our own self-empowerment and our tentativeness, mistrust of our knowledge and deeds, and the longing to be preserved in this blindness which will make the play seem valid and significant to its audience in years to come. 
Sven-Eric Bechtolf

Translated by David Tushingham