A street ballad in twelve tableaux by Max Frisch
A caretaker is murdered with no reason or motive. Alienated from himself and life in general by a working day that is always the same, a bank clerk seizes an axe and commits murder. This action lacking any obvious cause shocks state prosecutor Martin, who is in charge of the case. In the murder and his crime he can see a reflection of his own imprisonment in a bourgeois existence dominated by duty, law and order. The prosecutor is immediately struck by an existential fear that drives him to escape into the fairy tale world of a mysterious alter ego: the world of Count Öderland.
In the guise of Count Öderland, Martin, axe in hand, begins a bloody crusade against the socio-political status quo. He swiftly becomes a liberating hero, gathering a large number of disadvantaged and disaffected followers behind him. Their revolt against the powers that be and the prevailing system is planned deep down in the sewers. Ultimately Count Öderland / state prosecutor Martin even attacks the government with no regard for the losses on his own side.
What started as an escapist fantasy then becomes a never-ending dream from which the prosecutor cannot wake. Indeed, from which he must not wake – because he represents our hopes and we want to keep on dreaming his dream: «I don’t want power! I want to live!»
Current political changes and the dissatisfaction with ruling governments that is associated with them make the character of Count Öderland a potent figure: is he a life-affirming liberating hero or a power-hungry despot who lacks any political vision?
In «Count Öderland» Stefan Bachmann follows his production of Schiller’s «William Tell» by choosing another Swiss legend that examines the need for liberation from established socio-political formulas and codes while also plumbing the depths of our unconscious to measure its immense power.
Max Frisch described «Count Öderland» as his favourite play because it contained something mysterious that even he himself could not get to the bottom of. In his attempt to depict a normal person who is reflected in the character of Count Öderland, he combines the universal and the political with the person: a project that he would revise three times over the years.