Journalists expecting a scandalous play about the incest case of Josef Fritzl were disappointed when Vienna theatre artist Hubsi Kramar turned the tables and offered a scathing critique of the intense media coverage of the crime.
Addressing the large group of reporters in the audience Monday, Kramar started off the premiere of his play "Pension F" by suggesting that all camera teams present should be locked into the theatre's cellar.
"And then we'll see how they are doing," Kramar said.
It was a reference to the media hype surrounding the case of Josef Fritzl, 73, who locked up his daughter in a windowless dungeon beneath his house, raping her and fathering seven children over the course of 24 years.
When Kramar first promoted the play in January, he announced he would show "everything you ever wanted to know about the Fritzls", drawing strong criticism from tabloid media and far-right politicians.
Kramar said he had received threats. Several police officers were posted Monday as a security measure. In the end, the play subverted voyeuristic expectations. Like an absurd talk show, a succession of characters appeared who were on the verge of sharing their personal histories of abuse and rape.
But they never quite got to tell their stories as they were being pushed around by handlers, television show hosts and a "victim stylist", all beneath a sign saying, "Victims are good for ratings!"
The situation was reminiscent of the media appearances of Austrian abduction victim Natascha Kampusch, whose interviews were carefully managed by media coaches and public-relations managers.
Kampusch, 21, escaped in 2006 from the dungeon in which she had been held captive by Wolfgang Priklopil for more than eight years.
"Pension F" was timed to open only weeks before the trial of Josef Fritzl is set to start March 16. He is accused not only of incest and rape but also of murdering one of the children in the cellar.
In recent days, tabloid media have offered new, lurid stories related to the case.
The British daily The Sun published first pictures of Josef Fritzl's 42-year-old daughter Elisabeth and one of her children earlier in February, while Austrian newspaper Oesterreich printed a story on Sunday titled "Fritzl wanted to rape me, too."
At one point early in the show, Hubsi Kramar suggested that it was the media who had written his script.
"Thank you for making `Pension F' such a great play," he told the journalists in the audience.