A satirical play about the Austrian alleged multiple rapist Josef Fritzl opened last night amid a storm of angry protest in Vienna, with the author saying that he would need police protection to enable the show to continue.
The play, originally entitled Pension Fritzl, premiered at the Anatomie theatre simply as Pension F because of the furious criticism the production has provoked.
“Everything you ever wanted to know about the Fritzls” – is how the satire was promoted by the theatre. “In the cellar, under the carpet, you can’t get any lower than that.”
Fritzl is due to go on trial next month, accused of holding his daughter prisoner in a windowless cellar beneath his home for 24 years and fathering seven children with her. Pension F was written and directed by the Austrian actor, comedian and self-proclaimed “provocateur” Hubert “Hubsi” Kramar, whose previous stunts have included trying to enter the Vienna Opera Ball dressed as Adolf Hitler in 2000, after Austria’s far-right Freedom Party joined the government.
The play received an arts subsidy from the Vienna city government, but when news of the project was announced last month, it demanded that the funding be cut immediately and complained that the play was tasteless. Some politicians even suggested that Kramar should be arrested.
The mayor of Fritzl’s home town of Amstetten in lower Austria demanded that the play be cancelled. “This case involves a story of unspeakable suffering and brings satire to its moral limits,” he said.
Kramar said he had received a number of threatening phone calls: “I have had several murder threats over the phone. They told me, ‘I will do to you what Fritzl did to his family’.” In recent days, posters advertising the play had been torn down and locks on theatre doors glued shut, he said. The 60-year-old director insisted that his play was a media satire. “It is a complete media work. At first I thought I would be unable to write it, but in fact the media has written it,” he said. “It’s ridiculous to assume that I would be putting incest on stage.”
He refused to go into any more detail, but added that his co-author, Hermann Fritzl, shares the surname of the most notorious Austrian of the 21st century.
Kramar also called for a continued police presence at the theatre to allow the show – which has sold out for the rest of the month – to go on as planned.
Austria has a tradition of turning out provocative plays. A decade ago, protesters dumped a cartload of manure outside Vienna’s Burgtheater on the first night of Heldenplatz, Thomas Bernhard’s criticism, in a play, of Austria’s failures to face up to its Nazi past.
Some critics have gone so far as to suggest that the Fritzl case is another example of what they claim is the Austrian tendency to ignore rather than expose injustice within society.
Fritzl, who has admitted to being a “born rapist” since he was arrested last year, is charged with rape, imprisonment, slavery, incest, abuse and murder. The trial opens on 16 March. If convicted he will almost certainly be sentenced to life imprisonment. Psychiatrists have already recommended that he should never be set free.