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[Image:Moving Theatre logo]Höllenangst
Or Mortal Fright

Adapted from Dominique ou le possédé, a farce by Jean-Baptiste d’Epagny and Jean-Henri Dupin.
A farce with songs in 3 Acts.
By Johann Nestroy
Premiere: 17 November 1849

Funded by

Arts council of England

Austrian Cultural Forum

Baronesse Adele von Stromberg, an orphan
Lord von Stromberg, the brother of her late father
Lord von Reichthal, the brother of her late mother
von Arnstett, state secretary
von Thurming, head judge
Pfrim, an old cobbler
Eva, his wife
Wendelin, their son
Rosalie, Baronesse Adele’s chamber maid
Johann, a servant of Stromberg’s
Ignaz, servants of von Thurming
Doorkeeper at Arnstett’s

Leni, his daughter
Police officer and sergeants
Servants, workers, police

Act 1. Reichthal is in a spot of trouble. When his sister died shortly after her husband, his brother-in-law Stromberg, with the help of Arnstett, raised suspicions of conspiracy against him and had him thrown into prison. Stromberg was after the family fortune, and for this reason Reichenthal is concerned for the welfare of his niece Adele. He manages to escape from prison, and goes to Adele’s old nurse to inquire after her. Elsewhere, Thurming is having a secret meeting with Adele, while Ignaz stands at the window as look-out, by chance bumping into his old friend Johann. Ignaz is horrified that Johann is a servant of Stromberg’s. Johann tells him that Stromberg had Reichenthal thrown into prison in order to become Adele’s guardian, with the intention of persuading her to enter a nunnery, and renounce all her worldly goods. Ignaz for his part tells Johann that Adele was secretly married to Thurming the head judge three weeks previously. Their conversation is suddenly interrupted by the appearance of Stromberg. Although Ignaz manages to escape him, he doesn’t have time to warn his master. Stromberg discovers the rope ladder, which he loses no time in cutting through, believing that he has now trapped his uninvited guest. Adele and Thurming hear the racket resounding through the house and, discovering that the rope ladder has disappeared, Thurming hides on the roof of the house. [Song: Wendelin] Wendelin and his parents – Eva and Pfrim – live in abject poverty, because Stromberg has cancelled Eva’s allowance. Eva is furious because she thinks that Wendelin gave up his job out of love for Rosalie – but Wendelin explains that he only took the job, as prison warder, in the first place, to help Reichenthal escape. Now though they are after him too. When Eva hears that Reichenthal is free, she fetches some papers which, shortly before her death, the late baroness requested be given to Reichenthal. Unfortunately Wendelin doesn’t know where Reichenthal is. Pfrim demands the papers be burnt, but Wendelin hides them instead. Pfrim and Wendelin curse this world where the rich live well while the poor go hungry. In his anger, Wendelin says he would rather deal with the devil than with some people. Loudly he orders the devil to appear. At this moment there is a loud clap of thunder, and Eva and Pfrim flee out of the room in fear, while Thurming, in a red and black cloak, appears at the storm torn window. He addresses Wendelin in a friendly manner and gives him 30 ducats, asking him to swop overcoat and cap with him. It is worth a human soul Thurming tells Wendelin, thinking of Adele, whilst only confirming Wendelin’s belief that he is selling his soul to the devil. Before he goes, Thurming tells Wendelin that he will be forever indebted to him. Pfrim and Eva are very frightened when they hear what has happened – and immediately tell the first person who comes past all about it. This happens to be Reichenthal, in search of help, but so as not to burden them any further, he leaves again without revealing his identity. [Song: Wendelin]. Pfrim meets Ignaz at the inn, and is amazed at his wealth – and seeing Wendelin wearing Thurming’s cloak he thinks that they must be stolen. He goes to fetch his friends to help him. Meanwhile Wendelin and Pfrim decide that the devil will only come to fetch Wendelin after ten years, and that they should enjoy themselves for the first nine years, and then go on a pilgrimage to Rome. Ignaz arrives with help to arrest the supposed robbers and murderers, and bring them before a judge. Pfrim desperately calls on the devil for help, but he doesn’t appear.


Act 2. Thanks to his disguise, Thurming arrives home without mishap. Pfrim is looking for him there, but he is unable to make head or tail of Pfrim’s story, only partially realising what has happened when Ignaz explains further. Thurming has Wendelin fetched immediately. He also learns of Reichenthal’s release from Pfrim, and promises Pfrim he will be released without charge, thinking that the old man’s talk of the devil is due to his confused mental state. Rosalie announces that Adele has run away to be with Thurming, saying that she too would like to get married, but the man she has in mind has no idea of her secret desire. She claims she is sure though that he has done nothing wrong. Eventually it emerges that the man she is in love with is Wendelin. It is decided that Wendelin should be interrogated and then set free. Wendelin meanwhile is indeed surprised by the courteous behaviour of the guards towards him, but is nevertheless disappointed by the absence of any sign of the devil bringing about his release. Wendelin recognises the judge - Thurming - and assumes the devil has taken on his shape. It is only when he is accused by Wendelin of not keeping his side of the bargain, that Thurming picks up on the misunderstanding. He decides to let Wendelin continue with his misapprehension, and promises to fulfil his wishes. Intending to wish for the impossible, Wendelin demands that Reichenthal appear. No one sees the signal that Thurming gives to Reichenthal from the window. Wendelin also demands that his beloved should appear. His subsequent meeting with both Rosalie and Reichenthal in the next room convinces him of Thurming’s devilish powers. Rosalie is astonished at her lover’s strange behaviour. Wendelin is cast down and doesn’t seem to take any pleasure in anything. He believes that everything good – even Rosalie’s love – is merely the work of the devil. Thus he wavers continually between his determination to enjoy life while he can, and despair at his situation. In the end he manages to annoy Rosalie so much that she ends their relationship. In order to be absolutely certain that he is bound to the devil, Wendelin decides to do one last test. He decides to put his prisoner guard’s uniform on and go to the prison. If his former colleagues recognise him and arrest and hang him for treason, then it would show the world were in order. If they don’t recognise him, then the devil really must be involved. [Song: Wendelin]. Stromberg has realised that Adele has run away to Thurming. He is able to order a house search through his friend Arnstett, the state secretary, especially as he suspects that is where Reichenthal is hiding. Warned by Johann, Thurming has time to give Reichenthal Wendelin’s jacket and show him an escape route. However Pfrim sees Wendelin’s jacket and thinks that his son must have been murdered. Thurming shows the commissioner his marriage documents, but the commissioner won’t accept them. Pfrim tells the commissioner of his suspicions regarding the supposed murder of Wendelin. When the commissioner hears that it concerns the wanted prison guard, he arrests Pfrim.


Act 3. Wendelin has gone ahead with his plan, and eventually, to his relief, he is recognised and arrested. Meanwhile Pfrim demands that Arnstett let him look for his son. On hearing that Wendelin has important papers with him, Arnstett begins to take an interest in his whereabouts. Pfrim goes on to tell the whole story – Stromberg tried to steal the will before the baroness died, but was caught and in the course of the ensuing skirmish managed to lose a letter which implicated Arnstett in the affair as his accomplice. After this incident, the baroness wrote a new will and together with the letter, gave it to Eva for safekeeping, with instructions to pass it on to Reichenthal. Arnstett and Stromberg are glad to hear of Wendelin’s arrest, and promise Pfrim they will treat him well. Arnstett and Stromberg seem to have won, especially as they have Adele under their control. Wendelin is brought in and once again is astonished by the friendly way in which he is treated. Although Wendelin admits all he has done, Arnstett shows no interest in his crimes. Apparently compliant, Wendelin assures them he will hand over the papers, but points out that they are in Thurming’s house, and only he can fetch them. Arnstett and Stromberg let him go. Adele has heard Wendelin’s voice in the next room, and comes to meet him. Not knowing that Wendelin still takes Thurming for the devil, she is astonished when he urges her to agree to the annulment of her marriage, as arranged by Stromberg,. Wendelin finds out from Pfrim that Reichenthal already has the papers. In a letter Reichenthal thanks Wendelin and asks him on behalf of Thurming to bring Adele to Eva. Thurming will then fetch her and Wendelin from there in the night. This message deeply frightens Pfrim and Wendelin. [Quodlibet Leni, Wendelin, Pfrim, Portier] Thurming and Reichthal receive the news that the minister has died. They know that his successor is on their side, and so give orders for the arrest of Arnstett and Stromberg. However their plans are interrupted because Wendelin and Pfrim, frightened by what they think is the threat of the devil, have set off for Rome on a pilgrmage. Outside city they meet Rosalie, who asks them for help because Stromberg and Arnstett are attempting to flee with Adele over the border. However Wendelin and Pfrim don’t want to interrupt their journey, particularly as they interpret the coming storm as a sign from the devil. Irritated Rosalie leaves them there. During the storm, Pfrim and Wendelin take all who pass them by as incarnations of the devil, and are beside themselves with fear when they come across Thurming. Thurming thinks that Wendelin intended to flee without telling him of the danger Adele is in. Eventually Rosalie succeeds in dispelling some of Wendelin’s superstitious anxieties, by convincing him that the devil is a figment of his imagination. In the meantime Thurming has succeeded in rescuing Adele, and Arnstett and Stromberg have been arrested. Wendelin begs Thurming for forgiveness, and receives from him, to his great joy, permission to marry Rosalie.


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