The Revengers’ Comedies: Concept

Within the Ayckbourn Archive at the Borthwick Institute for Archives, there is a significant document regarding The Revengers' Comedies which contains Alan Ayckbourn's original notes and thoughts on the play; possibly as a brief for the press and publicity office at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round.


Some thoughts and images.

I suppose it'll probably be described as a darkish comedy. But I think the phrase "film noir" is rather nearer the mark.

It's big. Two parts. Over twenty characters. A dozen or more locations.

It's [sic] influences are, to some extent, the result of all the hours I spent as a child in cinemas seeing an average of eight films a week.

The piece starts with a brief prologue on Albert Bridge, SW3 at midnight. Two strangers meet there. HENRY, a 42 year old executive, divorced and recently made redundant, and KAREN, 25 rich, beautiful, upperclass and decidedly eccentric. Both are apparently trying to jump off the bridge and end it all. (KAREN has been crossed in love).
As a result of their meeting, they drive to KAREN's huge mid Victorian country home in Dorset where they strike a bargain whereby each agrees to exact revenge on behalf of the other. (Shades of Strangers on the Train!).

HENRY sort of gets talked into it but never really pursues the idea with much enthusiasm, at least not initially. He quite enjoys living the life of a country squire in KAREN's home, though, with just her equally dotty 21 year old brother OLIVER for company and two very eccentric female servants.

Complications ensue when HENRY falls in love with the object of KAREN's revenge, the lovely farmer's wife IMOGEN STAXTON-BILLING. Instead of plotting her downfall, HENRY starts an affair that is conducted wherever the couple can meet - mostly in cowsheds and piggeries. Despite the presence of IMOGEN'S boorish husband ANTHONY, things for HENRY are pretty idyllic.

But chickens tend to come home to roost. While he has been enjoying the countryside, KAREN has been having a ball in the city, doing a sort of one-woman take over bid for Lembridge Tennit, the vast conglomerate for which HENRY originally worked. Starting as a humble 'temp' secretary, KAREN begins her machiavellian climb to the top. Two of her bosses meet violent deaths and a third (female) has a nervous breakdown.

HENRY meantime finds himself fighing [sic] a shotgun duel with IMOGEN’s husband and (by sheer fluke) killing him. He is now free to marry IMOGEN but, increasingly, he is torn between his love for her and his promise to KAREN to wreak (KAREN's) revenge on her. KAREN, now a top executive, returns and demands her pound of flesh. Thwarted, she burns down the country home, makes vague threats on IMOGEN'S life and has HENRY fired from his new job.

A final showdown occurs back on Albert Bridge with HENRY and the two women. True love (hooray) conquers and HENRY and IMOGEN walk off into the sunset. KAREN, now completely off her trolley is left to commit her final act of 'revenge' on the couple as she hurls herself into the Thames.

So I suppose town and country might be one theme. Multi-storey office blocks and chicken sheds. There's also Morris Dancing (referred to but not seen) and a Junior Point-to-Point Meeting (also unseen!)

I think the feel of it is very English but the thing has a strange, slightly dark gothic oddness about it which I hope stops any whimsical, aren’t-we-British-so-amusingly-eccentric-as-a-race?, sort of boringness.
And, I suppose, dominating it all are the twin Revengers themselves - Henry and Imogen.

Oh, and KAREN really does have this thing about fire. She is an arsonist. She terrifies one of her bosses at the office by feigning a fire alarm and getting him to jump off the roof. She sets fire to the country home (as mentioned) and there are rumours that she also burnt her parents to death in the summer house at the age of twelve!

Perhaps the two figures, male and female, on Albert Bridge silhouetted by flames?
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