The Visit

Written by Friedrich Dürrenmatt (translated by Maurice Valency)

Thurs 20th February - Sat 22nd February & Mon 24th February - Sat 29th February 1992

Directed by Jacquie Penrose

Would you sacrifice a friend for money? Of course you wouldn't. Even though times are so very hard. Even though a millionaire comes to visit and offers fabulous sums in return for..... But of course you wouldn't. Would you?

AuthorFriedrich Dürrenmatt

Friedrich Dürrenmatt (1921 - 1990)

Friedrich Dürrenmatt was a Swiss author and dramatist. He was a proponent of epic theater whose plays reflected the recent experiences of World War II. His work included avant-garde dramas, philosophically deep crime novels, and often macabre satire. He much admired the drama of Brecht and Thornton Wilder, but adapted the former's celebrated "alienation technique" to his own puposes; to produce the grotesque and farcical.

Born in near Berne, the son of a Protestant parson, he studied philosophy and German language and literature at both Zurich and Berne universitites. He never graduated but spent much of his time in paininting and sketching. Imediately after the war, in Basle, he made ends meet by writing short stories and cabaret sketches.

In 1945-46, Dürrenmatt wrote his first play 'It Is Written', which premiered to great controversy. The story of the play revolves around a battle between a sensation-craving cynic and a religious fanatic who takes scripture literally, all of this taking place while the city they live in is under siege. The play's opening night in April, 1947, caused fights and protests in the audience. His first major success was the play 'Romulus the Great'. Set in the year A.D. 476, this play explores the last days of the Roman Empire, presided over, and brought about by its last emperor. Probably his best-know work is 'The Visit' written in 1956 which centres around the theme of whether or not justice can be bought. In 1946, he married the actress Lotti Geissler who died in 1983 after which, Dürrenmatt married again in 1984 to another actress, Charlotte Kerr.

TranslatorMaurice Valency

Maurice Valency (1903 - 1996)

Maurice Valency was a playwright, author, critic, and popular professor of Comparative Literature at Columbia University, best known for his award winning adaptations of plays by Jean Giraudoux and Friedrich Dürrenmatt. He also wrote television plays, adaptations of librettos, novels, and academic works on Chekhov, Strindberg, Ibsen and Shaw. In addition to his translations of plays, Valency is probably best known for his book 'The Flower and the Castle: An Introduction to Modern Drama'. In 1936 Valency married the artist Janet Cornell; they remained married for 60 years until Valency's death at the age of 93

PlayThe Visit

'The Visit' is a tragi-comedy, originally entitled 'Der Besuch der alten Dame' and was written in 1956. It premiered in Zurich that year and went on to be produced in Paris and on Broadway. The play raises the question of the corruptibility of justice by asking whether it can be exchanged for material wealth.

The story opens with the town of Gullen awaiting the arrival of millionaire and previous Gullen inhabitant, Claire Zachanassian. The town is in a state of disrepair, and the residents are suffering considerable hardship and poverty. The task of convincing Claire to make a donation has fallen to Anton Schill who co-incidentally was also once Claire's lover. Initially the meeting goes well, and Claire announces that she will make a donation of one billion dollars, half for the town and half to be shared among the families. The townspeople are overjoyed, but their joy is short-lived when Claire's conditions for the donation are revealed. Needing to exact revenge over Schill, for his denial of paternity of her child (who later died) and over the town who produced two false witnesses and drove her away at the time, she declares that her donation is conditional on Schill's death. The Mayor initially refuses but the play follows what happens as more and more pressure is brought to bear, and we see first-hand, how everything, including justice, can be bought.

The Bench Production

The Visit poster image

This play was staged at Havant Arts Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977.


Anton SchillPete Woodward
Claire ZachanassianJude Salmon
Mayor of GullenJohn Corelli
TeacherRosemary Sawyer
PastorMark Dridge
Doctor/PolicemanStuart Hartley
PainterClaire Morrish
BobbyRita de Bunsen
KobbyMark Wakeman
LobbyAndrew Caple
PedroCeri Tipler
OttilieCathy O'Hanlon
TownspeopleMembers of the Company

Gullen Children's Choir

Thursday, Saturday, Tuesday,
Thursday, Saturday
Megan Varilly, Christopher Evans,
Amy Hudson, Vicky Howse
Friday, Monday, Wednesday,
Friday, Saturday
Paul McMahon, Alexandra Thomas,
Victoria Simmons, Carla Eberhardt


Director Jacquie Penrose
Stage Manager Aislinn D'Souza
Lighting Mai Hawker, Sacha Pennington-Ellis
Sound Alyse Champion
Costume Ingrid Corrigan
Properties Andrew Ingle
Set Construction David Hemsley-Brown

Programme Notes

"Nothing will damage this comedy (which ends tragically) more than deadly seriousness."

"Tragedy assumes the presence of guilt, trouble, moderation, the overview, responsibility. In the mess that is our century, this cleaning out of the white race, there are no longer any guilty men, nor are there any to be held responsible any more. Nobody can do anything about it and nobody wanted it to happen..... We are too collectively guilty, too collectively embedded in the sins of our fathers and our forefathers. We are only children of children. That is not our guilt, only our bad luck: guilt nowadays is a personal achievement only, a religious deed. Only the comedy can reach us now."

"Now being Swiss isn't as easy as people think..... To survive this fate unharmed needs a virtue that most of us don't process, namely, the ability to laugh at ourselves."

Friedrich Dürrenmatt on 'The Visit', on 20th Century Theatre, on being Swiss


The NewsAnita Silk

Revenge is sweet send-up

Casting in the Bench Theatre Company's production of 'The Visit' was spot on - everyone looked the part with some fine character acting and hilarious send-ups.

The production was a brave and successful attempt at something unusual by an amateur company. Jude Salmon as Claire Zachanassian gave a faultless performance and a cold and calculating woman who returns for revenge on her native town of Gullen.

The town, who hounded her out for bearing an illegitimate child, is deep in recession. With billions to spend she can save them but her demands on the town are perverse and as the tension rises so does the humour. Compelling viewing. The production continues until February 29.

The News, 21st February 1992

Production Photographs