Thirty years today, Alan Ayckbourn’s two-part epic The Revengers’ Comedies made its West End debut at The Strand Theatre.
Rarely produced since due to its length, scale and technical challenges, The Revengers’s Comedies is nonetheless a hugely enjoyable play and experience.
To mark the anniversary, we have an article by Alan Ayckbourn in which the playwright talks about the play and its original production at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round, Scarborough.
The Revengers’ Comedies by Alan Ayckbourn
The Revengers’ Comedies was written in 1989 and was my response to one such period in the Stephen Joseph Theatre’s existence when I sensed things needed gingering up a bit. It also coincided with my 50th birthday which may have had something to do with it. Maybe I needed gingering up as well.
As starting point for the plays, I used the theme of the Hitchcock film classic, Strangers on a Train, based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith. Two strangers meet and have reasons to want someone in their lives dead. But simple murder would in both cases be easily detectable, the motive far too obvious. So they agree to swap murders, thus creating two motiveless crimes and, with both obvious suspects with watertight alibis, virtually undetectable. On the spur of the moment, it seems such an attractively simple scheme.
Only in the clear light of morning, one of the protagonists (as hopefully most people would) comes to his senses and proceeds with his half of the plan no further. But the other, the one who initially dreamt up the scheme, continues in (literally) deadly earnest.
It’s a big play in two parts, which qualified it as ‘an event’ with an overall running time including intervals of close on five hours, allowing two parallel stories to unwind. One the tale of the unbalanced and ambitious Karen, whom we learn is no stranger to killing having disposed of both her parents, murderously climbing her way through big business to boardroom level; the other the mild Henry who, falling in love with Imogen his intended victim, gets caught in Karen’s vengeful and deadly comet tail.
It’s a play thick with narrative but I hope rich in character too. Also, unusually for me, with multiple swiftly changing sets and a sea of characters, occasionally doubling.
It played with great success during the 1989 Scarborough summer in our second home, the converted former Westwood Boys’ Grammar school which we inhabited for over twenty years, overcoming the building’s limitations with ever increasing ingenuity.
The Revengers’ Comedies presented the place (along with the flooded stage of Way Upstream) with probably its greatest challenge. Fortunately the fickle Yorkshire weather stayed generally fine and I recall with fondness the sight of our audiences picnicking on double days in the public gardens adjoining the theatre in the intervals between Parts One and Two.
Our own little Glyndebourne!
You can find out more about The Revengers’ Comedies at Alan Ayckbourn’s Official Website here.
Article by Alan Ayckbourn and copyright of Haydonning Ltd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.