Drama at venerable Berlin theatre as troupe thrown out

One of Germany's most renowned drama companies, founded by the late playwright Bertolt Brecht, received notice Monday that its contract to perform at a Berlin theatre has been cancelled after nearly 60 years, its lawyer said.

The Berliner Ensemble, established by Brecht and his wife Helen Weigel in 1949, has performed at its current home, the riverside Schiffbauerdamm Theatre, since 1954.

But the owner of the theatre, German dramatist Rolf Hochhuth, terminated the city government's rental contract under which the troupe uses the stage, the Ensemble's attorney Peter Raue said in a statement mailed to AFP.

Hochhuth cited a litany of complaints in a 17-page cancellation letter, led by his claim that the Ensemble's chief Claus Peymann failed to uphold an agreement to regularly perform one of his plays.

The piece in question, 1963's "The Deputy", argued that Pope Pius XII failed to take action to stop the Holocaust.

Raue said that counter to assertions by Hochhuth, he has no "legal claim" to having the play staged by the Ensemble.

"A lack of audience interest will keep it from returning to the schedule," Raue said.

Hochhuth is also demanding that the Ensemble perform his play "Summer 14" about the start of World War I in time for next year's centenary.

Raue said Peymann rejected the work "on artistic grounds".

Hochhuth owns the Schiffbauerdamm Theatre, which opened in 1892 via a non-profit foundation. He rents the prime central Berlin property to the city government for around a reported 214,000 euros ($283,000) per year on behalf of the Ensemble.

It was not immediately clear where the Ensemble would perform if the cancellation becomes final but Raue indicated that he saw a good chance of a challenge to Hochhuth, noting he had once before tried unsuccessfully to throw the troupe out.

The Berliner Ensemble traditionally puts on Brecht's most famous plays such as "The Threepenny Opera" and "Mother Courage and Her Children", but also stages other challenging modern and contemporary works.

The Ensemble said it attracts some 240,000 people annually and fills around 86 percent of available seats, the highest rate among Berlin's theatre companies.