'Prager Luft' at the Berliner Ensemble: The censorship of Sieben gegen Theben, 1968-9

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Sieben gegen Theben nearly became the most controversial production in the Berliner Ensemble's history when Manfred Karge and Matthias Langhoff transformed it into an allegory of the Warsaw Pact's suppression of the Prague Spring. Their adaptation exploited the many fortuitous parallels between Aeschylus's play and recent international events, and culminated in a new ending in which the chorus castigated its failure to speak out against ‘rechtlose Herrschaft’ and foreign invasion. The protracted conflict over the script and staging – waged both outside and inside the company – illuminates reactions to the Prague Spring and reveals how theatre censorship actually operated: as a curious mixture of the personal and the bureaucratic, as a system that was formidable but not invincible. Indeed, the very means by which Sieben gegen Theben was censored suggest how GDR theatre may, on occasion, have been able to function as an ersatz political forum: if directors proceeded more tactically, used more challenging forms to evade the censors, created a stronger relationship with their spectators and, crucially, had the support of all their colleagues.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-54
Number of pages14
JournalGerman Life and Letters
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2005


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