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An Unexpected Pleasure

A Farce with songs in 3 Acts
By Johann Nestroy
Premiere: 23rd April 1845

Funded by

Arts council of England

Austrian Cultural Forum

Herr von Ledig, a man of independent means (originally played by Nestroy)
Walzl, a manufacturer
Gabriele, his wife
Falk, a haberdasher
Arnold, painter
Berg, Ledig's nephew, a travelling salesman working for Walzl
Marie Falk
Frau Schnipps, Ledig's housekeeper
Frau Nanni, a nanny
Anton, servant to Herr von Walzl

The action takes place in a large town.

Act 1. In the course of painting a portrait of her as a commission from her husband, Arnold has fallen in love with Gabriele Walzl. An unfortunate incident in the street has now resulted in him preparing to fight a duel on her behalf.
[Song, Ledig] In a song and monologue about love and marriage, Ledig (German for Unmarried) expresses his bachelor philosophy: "The great thing about affairs is that you can end them when you get bored, but in marriage the sense of being trapped is enough to drive one to suicide." Ledig enjoys living alone and his only relative, his nephew Berg, is always away on business for the manufacturer Walzl, which suits Ledig just fine.
Marie Falk has sneaked unobserved into Ledig's apartment and sneaks out again without him noticing. When Ledig prepares to go to bed, he is astonished to find a baby lying on the mattress. He suspects his friend Arnold or housekeeper Schnipps of playing a trick on him. But a nanny then appears and explains she has been engaged by a lady to breastfeed the baby boy. Ledig reluctantly decides to look after the foundling until its parents can be traced, a task rendered difficult by the absence of anything to indicate its identity. The only clue is a visiting card that has been handed in earlier. It is Walzl's business card, with a handwritten message on the back that is almost illegible. All Ledig can make out is: "I shall await the news, please preserve a life which …". Ledig immediately goes to see Walzl.

Act 2. Walzl is told by his servant Anton that a gentlemen wished to speak to him at 5 in the morning but has been asked to return at a more civilized hour.
Meanwhile his salesman Berg has returned after many months away on business, and has heard rumours that his uncle Ledig has a new heir, as of last night. Berg now receives separate confessions from husband and wife. Walzl tells him that he has a son by his first marriage whose existence he has kept secret from his wife, for fear that she would refuse to marry a widower with a child. Gabriele confesses that she is worried about Arnold's duel, particularly as she sent him a card, the discovery of which would lead to scandal.
The haberdasher Falk now arrives and tells Gabriele about the extraordinary behaviour of his sister Therese: how she refused to marry a rich man, kept bursting into tears, disappeared off to Bamberg for 5 months and has now returned and been spotted hanging around town.
Ledig is finally admitted to see Walzl and asks him directly if he has an unacknowledged son. Walzl is shocked into confession, but it soon becomes clear that they are talking about two different boys. To justify his suspicions Ledig shows Walzl the business card found in his apartment, and Walzl immediately recognises his wife's illegible scrawl. He immediately assumes Gabriele and Ledig must be having an affair. At that moment Marie Falk enters the room and is shocked to see Ledig. - [Song, Ledig: "One can only say, the whole thing is rather confusing"] - Gabriele spots the card with her handwriting and assumes Ledig is bringing her news of Arnold's demise in the duel, and is puzzled when he keeps referring instead to a baby in his bed. When Arnold arrives the confusion is resolved, though Walzl assumes Ledig must be acting as a go-between for Arnold and his wife, and is ready to condemn them all. To deflect attention from himself, Ledig blurts out the truth about Walzl's secret son, and Gabriele is appalled.
Frau Schnipps now bursts in and reports that a woman has been acting suspiciously outside the house and asking after a lost child. Ledig goes off in search of her, but then Schnipps catches sight of Marie Falk and declares her to be the woman in question. Pandemonium reigns.

Act 3. Back at his lodgings, Ledig is reminded by Arnold that he had an affair the previous summer in another town with a lady by the name of Falk, and persuaded that he must be the father of the child. Ledig now admits that it was not just a secret affair but a secret wedding. The marriage had been brief. He had separated from his wife and received news six months later that she was dead. He now realises that his wife must be alive after all and has brought the child to him.
Ledig now draws up a provisional will making the boy his sole heir, and is amazed when his nephew Berg, who would thus be disinherited, gladly agrees to add his signature. Berg now happily reveals the real truth to his uncle. He, Berg, is married to Therese Falk. He had married her in secret because her brother wanted to force a different marriage on her. He had then gone off for several months on business, and their letters to each other had been lost. She, with child and believing her husband had abandoned her, had entrusted the newborn baby to Marie with instructions to take it to Berg's uncle. All's well that ends well.


The Plays of Johann Nestroy. A directory of synopses prepared by Julian Forsyth & Zoe Svenson.
Funded by the Austrian Cultural Forum and Arts Council England. © Moving Theatre 2004