Schweyk in the Second World War (2009)

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Poster by Mark Davies

by Bertolt Brecht, translated by William Rowlinson

Directed by James Hough (JH)

Performances: Tuesday 19th to Saturday 23rd May 2009, Prompt Corner


This play derives from Jaroslav Hašek’s satirical and unfinished novel The Good Soldier Švejk, with Brecht transporting the tale from the First to the Second World War. The play is mostly set in Prague, the then the capital of the German Third Reich’s “Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia”’; it is 1942 and the German army’s doomed drive to capture Stalingrad is underway.

Most of the scenes occur within The Chalice, a pub in Prague (Schweyk’s “regular”). However, we also have scenes in the Gestapo HQ, Hitler’s HQ, the Prague railway yards, a military prison and the frozen steppes of Russia on the approaches to Stalingrad.


(in alphabetical order)

  • SS-Obersturmführer Bullinger / Wehrmachtdekan Bullinger / Officer at Hitler's HQ / Czech Prisoner / Singing Panzer Trooper - David Blatcher
  • Mr Schweyk – Alan Brown
  • Der Führer des Großdeutschen Reiches, Adolf Hitler - Alan Buckman
  • Reichsmarschall (and Reichs Minister of Aviation, Forestry etc etc) Hermann Göring / SS-Schütze Müller II / Customer at the Chalice / German Soldier, Prague Goods Yards (off stage voice) / Mr Vojte / Russian Peasant / Deserting German Soldier / Singing Panzer Trooper: Sean Chapman
  • Dr Paul Joseph Goebbels, Reichsminister für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda und Gauleiter von Berlin / Customer at the Chalice / Agent, German Department of "Woluntary Var Verk" / Czech Prisoner / Singing Panzer Trooper - Nick Conway
  • German Soldier - Derek Dempsey
  • Kati / "Lady" in Hitler's HQ / Mobile Squad to HQ Trooper No. 1 – Lena Feindt
  • Young Prochazka / SS-Schütze (Prague Goods Yards) / Czech Prisoner – James Furlong
  • German Soldier - Stuart Grimwood
  • Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler / SS Officer (Prague Goods Yards) / German Soldier / Deserting German Soldier / Singing Panzer Trooper - Stefan Lorett
  • Mrs Kopecka – Jenny McLaughlin
  • Mr Baloun – Peter Medd
  • Geheime Staatspolizei Agent Brettschneider / Generalfeldmarschall Von Bock ("Der Sterber"), Kommandant, Heeresgruppe Süd / Heer Doktor / Singing Panzer Trooper: Christopher Vian-Smith
  • Anna / "Lady" in Hitler's HQ / Mobile Squad to HQ Trooper No. 2 / Customer in the Chalice – Karen Webb (mistakenly referred to as "Anna Webb" in the programme owing to idiot director)
  • And Lux, Mr Vojte's dog - played by himself

And (last night only)


Krieg im Westen

When the audience were coming in, the idea was to have some German soldiers relaxing and watching a propaganda film. Accordingly, some white material was placed on the set for a film to be projected on to; and the film "Krieg im Westen" ("Victory in the West") was hired from the Imperial War Museum, payment being made for five viewings. Unfortunately, the projector blew a fuse on opening night, so all we got was the sound from then on. However, some commented that this was sufficient to get them "in the mood" for the play. Interestingly, the film featured, amongst others, the then General von Bock prior to his promotion to Field Marshal (after the fall of France); he bore little resemblance to Chris Vian-Smith.

Historical Mistakes!

Brecht made the following ones:

He gave the address of The Chalice as 7 Huss Street. Marek Lavstoka at the Prague Municipal Archives confirmed to JH that the address of the Chalice in WW2 was 12 - 14 Na Bojisti Street, where it is still running.

Brecht also had Hitler addressing Von Bock as "Herr General", whereas Von Bock was a Generalfeldmarschall at the time in question (1942).

It also appears Brecht failed to recognise that an SS lieutenant was known as an "Obersturmführer".

We made the following ones:

The file jackets used at Gestapo HQ were not German. Rather, they were Home Office Prison Department files. They were identified as such by four members of the audience (one couple who worked at the UK Border Agency and another two from the National Offender Management Service).

The Gestapo HQ telephone was a genuine German WW2 'phone with the phonetic alphabet they used at the time on it (e.g. A = Anton; S = Siegfried; and Z = Zeppelin). However, it was a field telephone rather than an office one. Further, the telephone "ring" we employed wasn't anything of the sort: rather, it was the alarm siren used at the German naval gun battery in the film "The Guns of Navarone". Kevin Leech kindly provided this, as requested.

The tank track sound used for the entrance and exit of the German armoured vehicle was that (we think) of a Panzer Mark VI ("Tiger" tank) recorded by Kevin Leech at a Bovington "Tankfest". The Panzer Mark VI bore no resemblance whatsoever to our vehicle, however.

The submachineguns we had (MP [Maschinenpistole] 40's or "Schmeissers", as they were known to Allied troops in WW2) were plastic BB guns. Due to this, one of the SS soldiers was able to poke a customer at The Chalice with his MP40 while holding it only by the trigger handle. He would not have been able to do that with a real version, owing to the weight.

Tomas Jakl from the Prague Military Museum kindly confirmed to JH that the following SS units were stationed in Prague in 1942:

SS-Standortkommandantur Prag; SS-Standortverwaltung Prag; SS und Polizeigericht Prag; Sanitaetschule SS Prag; SS-Wachbattalion Prag; SS-Ersatz Battalion Deutschland; and SS-Totenkopf Ersatz Battalion II.

Having plumped for the latter, SS-Obersturmführer Bullinger was duly provided with the cuff title of the SS-Totenkopf Division (the Ersatz Battalion II being a depot formation for this - the third - SS division). Owing to an error by JH, we put the cuff title (featuring a silver skull on a black backbround) on his lower left sleeve, rather than on his left cuff (where it should have been). Not sure if anyone in the audience noticed this error, though.

At the end of a scene featuring Hitler and Göring, the former presented the latter with a medal, namely a silver Spanish Cross with swords. However, as this German medal was for fighting in the Spanish Civil War (something Göring didn't actually do), this was historically inaccurate.

Of the eleven helmets used by the German soldiers in the show, ten were First World War "coal scuttle" replicas and only one was a Second World War model. Although some WW1 helmets did come out of retirement towards the end of the WW2, there would not have been such a high proportion in 1942, even in occupied Prague.

Gestapo Report

Gestapo Agent Brettschneider, having arrested Schweyk in the Chalice, was required to present a report to SS-Obersturmführer Bullinger at Gestapo HQ. Accordingly, a prop report was provided with the following text thereon (translated by Stefan Lorett from text provided by JH):



Agent Brettschneider K. Geheime Staatspolizei Stabsquartier Abteilung A Zimmer 401b Praha 1, Politických věznů 20


SS-Obersturmführer Bullinger SS-Totenkopf Ersatz Batallion 11 Zimmer 203a Praha 1, Politických věznů 20

Datum: 23er August, 1942

Bericht über am 22en August 1942 in dem Lokal 'zum Kelch' vom Herrn Schweyk gemachten staatsfeindlichen Bemerkungen.

Die 'zum Kelch' Hussstr 7 gestern besucht, wurde Herr Schweyk von mir bemerkt, um einige staatsgefeindlichen Bemerkungen über unsere Regierung gemacht zu haben, einschließlich des folgenden:

1 Unser Führer hat vor, die Welt zu besiegen

2 Das Deutsche Volk ist nicht fest hinter dem Führer

3 Das Deutsche Volk beschwert sich über dem Führer

4 Deutschland verteidigt sich gegen ihre Jüdische Feinde nicht, ondern ist mit dem aggressiven Krieg beschäftigt

5 Der Münchener Versuch auf dem Leben des Führers war 'achtlos'.

6 Zum Protektorat würde es kein Schaden sein, wenn der Führer ermördert wäre

Herr Schweyk wurde infolge dieser Bemerkungen um elf Uhr sechs und vierzig fest genommen. Zwölf Uhr drei und zwanzig erreichte er das Geheime Staatspolizeis Stabsquartier. Dort wurde er formell angeklagt.

Ich kann bestätigen dass ich die Bar 'zum Kelch' bei mehreren Gelegenheiten besucht habe. Die Hauswirtin, Frau Kopecka, hat kein Interesse an der Politik und ist mit diesem Ereignis unverbunden.

Heil Hitler!


Agent Brettschneider K.


  • I enjoyed this play - and so did Raffaella, even though it's not about Harry Potter, nor did have any of her favourite actors in (as they are, for the most part, movie stars with names such as Robert Pattinson, this is not surprising).

I thought the script a bit long-winded at times, and the songs, to my mind, seemed shoe-horned in, but it is Brecht (even if in translation), so I knew what to expect before I saw it.

However, I found a lot of it very funny, as the rest of the audience can attest; it was fabulous seeing Karen W. doing yet another accent; Jenny's singing is always a delight to listen to; and most of the actors put in top-notch performances, and no-one put in a really duff one, to my mind. And the sight of Adolf Hitler hanging out the countries to dry (presumably not on the Siegfried Line), and of him dancing around the stage, will remain with me for a long time - as will the sight of Sean as a Russian peasant ("this is a local shop, for local people", anyone?).

All in all, it was a very good evening's entertainment, so thank you, James, and everyone else involved.

  • Haven't had a chance to get on the board since I saw Schweyk on Saturday, but just wanted to say how much I enjoyed this scoopful of wartime lunacy.

Having been subjected to far too much Brecht at school and uni, I have to admit to having been a little worried about this, but Hough managed to do the impossible - he made Brecht truly funny! The sight of the frozen Nazis singing in their leetle tank is one that will stay with me for a long time - one of those truly gasp-inducing 'did that really happen in Prompt??' moments. The impromptu urban march scene in the prison was also priceless, and brilliantly executed. I don't usually like to pick out performances, and this was a proper ensemble piece, but I want to give special mention to David Blatcher, in the best role (roles!) I have seen him do. The drunken priest was really moving. Excellent stuff.

I would agree that some of the songs are crowbarred in, but that's Brecht for you. Apart from that I loved everything about this - the highlight of the SLT year so far for me.

I'm now waiting with bated breath to see what the Houghmeister will bring us next...

  • I had no idea what to expect from this (until I spent several rehearsal hanging from the rafters rigging lights, of course), and it seems like I'm one of the only people who didn't know anything about Brecht before seeing this play. I had expected something quite somber and serious, which shows that I knew James even less than I knew Brecht....

What I got was a sort of surreal "Oh, What a Lovely War!" type caper, with a cast who kept me giggling even when I had seen the scenes and heard the lines many times in the run up to show week. Each time I saw it I picked up on something new, something that had passed me by previously. The final scenes with Schweyk in Russia, while still very funny, were very touching with the juxtaposition of the (now seemingly trivial) troubles of those in the Chalice and Schweyk freezing his proverbials off on the steppes.

However, I do agree that the songs seemed forced, and if you know that's what Brecht is trying to do, that's fine. I had no idea about that (indeed, should the audience need to have any prior knowledge of either text or author to appreciate the prerformance?) and to me it seemed like half of them could have been cut out without making a difference to the show. I know that James had to cut the script short as it is, but there were some scenes (for instance after Baloun has made his oath) that could have been shorter - the point that he is a glutton is already made by then and for me that scene was all about the contrast mentioned above. Talking about his sister's wedding took away from that, in my opinion.

Overall though a cracking show which made me laugh so hard I nearly wet myself. A great effort from the cast, a challenging layout for Prompt and some great direction and ideas.

Well done!

  • I have to admit I didn’t enjoy it as much as others seemed to and I think that is because of a couple of things, mostly because of James’s production of “Bullshot”.

To be fair, after Bullshot anything that came next was going to have a steep hill to climb to impress me as much as that did but I came with an open heart hoping to find Schweyk doing just that. I’m afraid that I was disappointed to say that it didn’t.

As the play was that bit more dated, with what I thought was a strange set up in Prompt and some slightly tedious characters (sorry but if I heard that man moan about being hungry again I would have went down and got him a packet of our new Bacon crisps and stuffed it down his throat! and a group of people who just stood back and let Jenny be punched across the face when the Nazis didn’t really seem to be stopping them attending to her! [Note from JH: there were two German soldiers on stage at the time, with submachine guns, who could have wiped out all the customers in a couple of seconds. The play also took place after the infamous massacre at Lidice. <ref> </ref>] And Schweyk himself, who was he, what was he about, did I care?), it lost my attention, where Bullshot had grabbed my attention. I’m afraid that by the second half I really didn’t care if Shrek got to Russia, or Germany, or wherever else he wanted to go to!

At times I felt that parts of the play were giving James a one trick poney status, similar comic genius just being repeated, however! suddenly we had stand out brilliance, the tank, the washing line, the swing, Karens fake b**bs and her face throughout, the prisoners singing, to name the ones that worked for me. And for them I’m grateful as they made me laugh, a lot.

Regarding the singing, I didn’t think it was half bad. I would have put in a small stage infront of the bar that could have been spot lit, with the audience turning in to listen. That might have given them more focus. Voices throughout was great and it was good to see a big bunch of lads belting out the songs they had to sing – the clashing helmets wonderfully done.

Acting through-out was good, on form. Some nice moments from all. And it was really great to see some different faces on the stage too.

Overall, it wasn’t a bad evening, but I was glad I got my ticket for free for doing FoH rather than paying. I really think that was the play though rather than from our cast and crew.

  • Ironically, I think Brecht would have thought his work here was done reading your comments!

(Not meant patronisingly - have a google!)

I thoroughly enjoyed this production - very well done to all involved.

I agree about the setting - the stage was very long and some views were a bit blocked (Chris' entrance as the doctor was completely ineffectual to the last two on my row, which was a shame), and some characters spoke so quickly that their lines (great translation I thought) were rather hazy, but overall the absurdity was much appreciated. Well done James!

I was certainly entertained Mr H. I particularly enjoyed the set pieces involving Schweyk and the train numbers, the 'unfit' men singing their version of the Horst Wessel song and, of course the tank song.

I did have one or two problems with hearing what was being said and the action lacked slickness occasionally but I was unable to dwell much on this because the next comic idea would immediately re-engage me.

I'm not sure that the staging worked completely but it is difficult to see how you could have achieved what you did any other way.


John Sansom's photographs of the play can be seen here

Reminiscences and Anecdotes

JH recalls:

Standing outside Ego's on his own prior to a rehearsal. A voice with a heavy German accent suddenly called out: "Hey you, you gorgeous yunk man: vood you like to get into my car?" Yes, Stefan Lorett, who already had Nick Conway inside the said vehicle.

Giving the following direction (when rehearsing the first scene in Hitler's HQ): "Can all the Germans b*gger off that way..."

The Germans got booed at the curtain call on the last night.

LT (costumes)

I had to get the costumes from a place called Khaki Devil which operates out of a sort of barn thing deep in the Suffolk countryside. Suffolk, I thought, how far can that be? Well miles away apparently, especially as I got so lost that the owner had to come and meet me in a feed store car park virtually weeping with frustration. However his costumes were excellent and I then had to spend the next few days driving around with a load of Nazi uniforms and other regalia in my car. My mother was Jewish. Go figure.

See Also



External Links

Prussians Gloria March here:

Alte Kameraden March here:

Westerwald March here:

(will do links / explanation etc later)