Revenge is sweet: the music, TV and theater about getting your own back | culture


In Desperate Housewives, when her gay son, Andrew, sleeps with her boyfriend, Bree Van de Kamp – everyone’s favorite Republican-voting Stepford wife (played by Marcia Cross, above left) – abandons him on the side of the road. It might be classified more as punishment than revenge but it’s petty as hell. In turn, Andrew goes on TV for a segment about homeless teenagers and tells them about his “alcoholic mother”. Whether it’s burning down your neighbour’s house for sleeping with your fiance, or strangling the woman who blackmailed your dead wife, Desperate Housewives is the ultimate tribute to getting your own back. They don’t make high-camp television like this any more. Jason Okundaye


Baykali Ganambarr and Aisling Franciosi in the Nightingale.
Baykali Ganambarr and Aisling Franciosi in the Nightingale. Photograph: Bron Studios/Allstar

At the movies, brutal revenge tends to be a manly pursuit, especially when the man is Liam Neeson. But it gets a female – if hardly traditionally “feminine” – twist in Jennifer Kent’s effervescent tale The Nightingale, set in 1825 Tasmania. Sweet of voice, slight of frame but steely of will, indentured convict Clare (breakout star Aisling Franciosi) tracks down the murderers of her husband and baby, on a bleak, brambly quest, clotted with blood and mud and colonial cruelty. But her thawing relationship with her Indigenous guide, Billy (Baykali Ganambarr), provides a spark of warmth, like the song of a lone bird that sounds all the sweeter in the vast chill of unfriendly forests. Jessica Kiang


Ian McKellen in Hamlet at Theater Royal Windsor.
Ian McKellen in Hamlet at Theater Royal Windsor. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

Shakespeare does exceedingly good revenge. To name but a few, there’s the one with the human-flavoured pie (Titus Andronicus); the green-eyed officer (Othello); and the bitter outcast (Richard III). Then, of course, there’s Hamlet – a young man so intent on avenging his father’s death that he’s prepared to lay his sanity, love and life on the line. He isn’t exactly efficient. He kills a fair few others along the way and takes one heck of a detour (on a ship bound for England). But I’ll say one thing for the Dane, the man is thorough. stabbing. And poisoning. That’ll do it. Miriam Gillinson


The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

Revenge is served up with horrible precision and a terrifying lack of discrimination in Susan Hill’s 1983 novel, The Woman in Black. Raging at her own loss, the black-clothed woman snuffs out the lives of children – seemingly needing no more motivation than that someone close to them has been unlucky enough to see her. Beneath the surface is a real primal fury, and Hill skillfully dresses up her narrative with the familiar trappings of an Edwardian ghost story. There are plenty of cozy fires as well as the requisite chills and sea mists. Sam Jordison


Ireee Theorin (left) and Eva-Maria Westbroek.
Ireee Theorin (left) and Eva-Maria Westbroek. Photograph: Reuters/Alamy

In Richard Strauss’s brutal single-act opera, Elektra, the titular lead is furiously obsessed with avenging the death of her father, Agamemnon, and seeks to kill his murderers: Klytaemnestra (Elektra’s mother), and her lover Aegisth. She hopes her siblings might feel equally bloodthirsty, yet she can’t be sure about her brother Orest (who lives far away), and struggles to persuade her sister, whose outlook is more tolerant. Orest, feared dead, later arrives and slays both killers, but, after a fit of berserk dancing, Elektra drops dead, robbed of the personal retribution she sought so fanatically. Hugh Morris

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