East German actor Ekkehard Schall was a leading figure in the famous Berliner Ensemble theatre company in East Berlin, which performed the plays of the co-founder Bertolt Brecht. The company, which appeared in Britain in 1956, saw itself as the guardian of Brecht’s tradition after his death the same year.
Co-founded with Helene Weigel in 1949, the company was led by Weigel until 1971 and then by Ekkehard Schall and his wife Barbara Brecht-Schall until 1992. By this time the Berliner Ensemble was generally seen as being in serious decline, despite attempts to diversify with plays by Shaw and Wedekind among others. A group of leading West German directors were placed in charge in the early nineties.
Schall played more than 60 roles with the company, most notably as the lead in The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, Brecht’s parable about the violent career of a gangster in prewar Chicago. The rise of the ruthless title character parallels that of Hitler and the Nazis. Schall played the role internationally more than 500 times.
Born in Magdeburg on May 29, 1930, Schall began acting as a teenager. He moved to Berlin in 1951 and joined the Berliner Ensemble a year later where he became a disciple of Brecht. “He turned me inside out as a human being and politically too,” he recalled.
Among Schall’s many leading roles with the company were Puntila in Herr Puntila, Coriolanus in Brecht’s reworking of the play and Galileo. In the sixties he played the lead role in Kippardt’s In the Case of Robert J Oppenheimer.
In later years Schall began to distance himself from the Ensemble and appeared in plays by Heiner Muller and Rolf Hochhuth. He received adverse publicity after reading extracts from Mein Kampf for a commercial recording, intended as a satire, which had to be withdrawn from sale after protests from the German Jewish community.
In 1983 he played Franz Liszt in the TV mini-series Wagner, with Richard Burton and Laurence Olivier.
His most recent stage work was a touring production entitled Ich haBrecht, a tribute to his mentor Brecht.
He died on September 3, aged 75. He is survived by his wife Barbara and their daughter Johanna.
We need your help…
When you subscribe to The Stage, you’re investing in our journalism. And our journalism is invested in supporting theatre and the performing arts.
The Stage is a family business, operated by the same family since we were founded in 1880. We do not receive government funding. We are not owned by a large corporation. Our editorial is not dictated by ticket sales.
We are fully independent, but this means we rely on revenue from readers to survive.
Help us continue to report on great work across the UK, champion new talent and keep up our investigative journalism that holds the powerful to account. Your subscription helps ensure our journalism can continue.