(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 11/9.)
The Swiss playwright Max Frisch is most famous for The Fire Raisers, in which a respectable bourgeois naively welcomes three agents of destruction into his home. But what if we ourselves are the real source of violence? That is the question Frisch poses in this weird, subversive, grotesquely enjoyable parable, written in 1951 and here getting its belated British premiere from Cerberus Theatre.
Frisch's hero, Martin, is a public prosecutor who disturbingly identifies with a murderous bank employee he is putting on trial. Lured by a kitchen-maid, who may be a figment of his imagination, Martin takes to the woods, where he is haunted by the fairytale legend of Count Oederland, who chopped down anyone who opposed him. Martin becomes an axe-wielding killer who eventually finds himself the leader of a nationwide insurrectionist movement. But, with the hero poised to become head of state, we are left wondering whether this is all a lawyer's fantasy or a fable grounded in reality.