In an attempt to "blast the British theatre into the seventies," John Mather, former head of the William Morris Agency in Europe, mounted a production of The Avengers on stage. Unfortunately, this oft-overlooked aspect of Avengers history is very likely oft-overlooked because it ran for about five weeks and then quickly faded from the public consciousness.
Mather certainly tried his best, creating what could rightly be considered an "authoritative" production. Veteran Avengers writers Terence Feely and Brian Clemens produced the script. Patrick Macnee was asked to appear, but he turned it down, in spite of his copious stage experience, citing his belief that the only proper place for The Avengers was the small screen. Simon Oates won the role of John Steed. And his partner? Hannah Wild, played by Sue Lloyd. (It is worth noting that the entire principal cast had guested on the series.)
The plot, for what it's worth, concerns the evil Madame Gerda's efforts to overthrow the governments of the world and infiltrate their spy networks. To carry out this bold plan, she has at her disposal a device known as the Giant Computer Brain, which has the power to render invisible Gerda and her entourage of female students. Because Steed is somehow the only person able to see the invisible enemy, Mother suspects he's gone potty and commits him to hospital. Steed escapes to find Gerda and gang have compromised all of the world's security ministers. After doing battle once again with the evil-doers, he finally convinces Mother he is sane, but not before he's been court-martialed, stripped of rank and license, and tortured by Gerda—in one scene he is tied to the Giant Computer Brain (itself a phallic symbol) and whipped by a half-naked girl... Yes, it was a comedy; at one point Oates tells a dying robot, "Get on with it, man, robots don't have death scenes!"
Premiering 15 July 1971 (not 20 July, as Dave Rogers indicates), at the Birmingham Theatre, The Avengers
on stage was touted as having a "special look." Sixteen
high-tech sets (including a helicopter cockpit), 30 nubile female extras
and loads of trick props certainly created a "different" theatre
experience. Sadly, the production was fraught with technical difficulties.
Perhaps the best example of this was a trick sofa designed to make Gerda
"disappear" by swallowing her whole. Unfortunately, when Jeremy
Lloyd sat down on it to have a cup of tea, he fell victim to its
unscheduled operation, although due to his size his head still stuck out,
and cast and audience alike were hysterical. After at ten-day run at the
Birmingham Theatre, it transferred to London's Prince of Wales Theatre for a
(very) "limited engagement."
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