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House of Usher

The Fall Of The House Of Usher – the musical

by Richard Hansom
with music by Warren Wills

 

SYNOPSIS

ACT ONE

Prologue

Scene One
The VILLAGERS sing of the legend of the accursed HOUSE OF USHER. The dashing EDGAR arrives at the Village Inn, accompanied by his lugubrious manservant URQUHART and his beautiful, if demanding, new wife ROWENA. They have come to visit Edgar’s lifelong friend, RODERICK USHER.   The VILLAGERS are shocked when they hear of his destination, and INSPECTOR ABBERLINE confirms the strange rumours about Usher’s house.  The INNKEEPER remarks on EDGAR’s Australian accent, and he tells them of his travels (A LITTLE DEGREE OF LATITUDE).  ROWENA announces that she will not spend a night at the House and decides to lodge at the Inn.  ABBERLINE fails to dissuade EDGAR from his visit, but gives him a revolver in case of trouble.  EDGAR heads off, accompanied by URQUHART.

Scene Two
At the house, they are greeted by Usher’s impressionable maidservant, DEMELZA, and a sinister, silent BUTLER.  DEMELZA is alarmed to hear that en route URQUHART has fallen into the nearby tarn, since legend has it that he will not live to see the dawn.  She also hints at her master’s peculiarities – when EDGAR asks to know more she introduces him to Usher’s crazed physician, MESMER, who is keeping Roderick UNDER THE INFLUENCE. Unable to hold back the truth from EDGAR any longer, ROWENA agrees to take him to USHER’s chambers.

Scene Three
There they discover a gaunt and haunted RODERICK, the subject of many bizarre ‘cures’ by MESMER.  He reveals the strange nature of his affliction – an acute sensitivity to all sensory stimulation (PARANOIA).  But the strain of the encounter proves too much for him and he asks MESMER to administer an opiate to help him sleep.

Scene Four
Back in the Hallway, EDGAR notices a strange resemblance between a portrait of Roderick’s mother and his own wife ROWENA – DEMELZA seems taken aback to hear EDGAR is married.  EDGAR then receives another shock as he sees a spectral female figure flitting across an upper gallery.  DEMELZA reveals that this is USHER’s twin sister MADELEINE who suffers from an even more severe case of her brother’s affliction.  EDGAR is astounded that RODERICK had never mentioned a sister, then reveals that he has met this woman before, back when he was a student in Paris.

Scene Five
Flashback to a Parisian café, where MADELEINE entertains the clientele with an enchanting performance (A CAFÉ IN MONTMARTRE).  EDGAR is bewitched, and goes backstage for a rendezvous with this vision of beauty – only to be caught in flagrante by the café owner who throws him into the streets.

Scene Six
Driven crazy by the sight of his former love, EDGAR pursues her down the corridor.  URQUHART takes this chance to make advances towards DEMELZA, but she cools his ardour with a swift knee to the groin.

Scene Seven
EDGAR pursues MADELEINE to MESMER’s laboratory, where he discovers a comatose USHER in a strange vampiric embrace with his sister.  USHER awakes and when EDGAR tries to alert him to the horrors he has seen, he reveals that he is fully aware of MESMER’s actions – feeding on USHER’s blood is the only thing that can stop MADELEINE falling into a cataleptic trance.  Since he himself cannot produce any off-spring, MADELEINE’s survival is vital to the continuation of the Usher bloodline.  And she is already betrothed to another – EDGAR is heartbroken that his long-lost love is no longer free.  USHER reminds him that he too is now married to ROWENA, and all three sing of the attractions of FORBIDDEN FRUIT.   But once her brother departs, MADELEINE encourages EDGAR’s advances, and they embrace under the gloating eyes of MESMER.

Scene Eight
Back at the Village Inn, a storm is raging.  ROWENA is concerned for EDGAR’s safety at the House. When ABBERLINE lets slip that USHER has a sister, ROWENA demands to know exactly what are these QUEER GOINGS-ON that the VILLAGERS keep referring to. They are interrupted by a knock at the door – it is DEMELZA who tells ROWENA that her husband is falling victim to the madness of the House of Usher.  ROWENA guesses that this sister must be the source of EDGAR’s madness, and she confides in DEMELZA that she can never hope to tame her husband’s roving eye (WILL HE STILL BE THERE IN THE MORNING?).  With the storm worsening, there is no way they can reach the House, so DEMELZA agrees to bed down in the stables.

Scene Nine
The next morning, a guilt-stricken EDGAR awakes to discover that MADELEINE has passed away during the night.  USHER asks him and URQUHART to take her body down to the family vault. As they leave to carry out this unhappy task, MESMER uses his hypnotic powers to convince USHER that EDGAR is responsible for MADELEINE’s death, and RODERICK vows to make him suffer.

Scene Ten
As EDGAR and URQUHART are in the finally stages of bricking up MADELEINE’s coffin in the vault, EDGAR notices a large crack in the foundations of the House. Just then a strange caterwauling reaches their ears – EDGAR discovers it’s just a black cat, whom he unceremoniously boots offstage.  USHER appears with the mysterious BUTLER, who carries a goblet of wine to refresh them after their arduous toil.  As they sup on this CASK OF AMONTILLADO, first URQUHART, then EDGAR fall victim to its soporific effect.


ACT TWO

Scene One

EDGAR wakes up in a Torture Chamber, where he is bound to a table with a large pendulum blade swinging down towards him.  The EXECUTIONER gloats over him (IT’S THE PITS), revealing URQUHART’s lifeless body in an Iron Maiden.   After toying with his victim for a while, the EXECUTIONER starts to bring the pendulum blade down more swiftly, when the mysterious BUTLER lifts a cut-throat razor  – and slashes through EDGAR’s bonds.  But the EXECUTIONER gets the upper hand again, until the BUTLER utters his first words – to remind EDGAR of the revolver he is carrying.  EDGAR shoots the EXECUTIONER, and the BUTLER reveals himself to be none other than ABBERLINE.

Scene Two
As they make their way back up the stairs, ABBERLINE reveals he has infiltrated the Usher household on the trail of two international criminals – DOCTOR MESMER and MADELEINE who plan to make RODERICK their next victim.  Reaching the hallway, they are confronted by a distraught DEMELZA who tells them ROWENA has been kidnapped.

Scene Three
Flashback to the Inn earlier that morning, as DEMELZA goes into ROWENA’s chamber to discover she has been abducted.  The INNKEEPER offers to take her to the House, where by chance he has a large sack to deliver that same morning.  As they go a MYSTERIOUS VILLAGER pays off the others for their help – revealing himself to be none other than MESMER.

Scene Four
Back in hallway, EDGAR is shocked when the portrait of Lady Usher comes to life – DEMELZA deduces that it has been possessed by the spirit of ROWENA.  She starts to tempt EDGAR to join her in the picture, but ABBERLINE pulls him back to stop him falling victim to the deadly succubus. As the portrait returns to normal, EDGAR rues the day he left his beloved Australia (THE WAY BACK HOME).  Just then, ABBERLINE finds a secret passage behind the portrait, and they head off down in to discover the truth.

Scene Five
The passageway leads to USHER’s chambers, where RODERICK is in the throes of a nightmare.  EDGAR rouses him to ask him what’s going on.  RODERICK accuses EDGAR of being responsible for his sister’s death, but ABBERLINE tells him his sister may not be as dead as he assumes.  USHER goes into a frenzy, convinced that he can hear her corpse moving about in the vaults (CAN YOU HEAR IT?) – they have put her living in the tomb!  EDGAR and ABBERLINE rush off to investigate, leaving DEMELZA to tend to the distracted USHER, as she admits to her true feelings for EDGAR (WHAT ABOUT ME?).

Scene Six
EDGAR and ABBERLINE burst into MESMER’s laboratory, where MADELEINE lies in an open coffin.  Wires join her to a generator-like contraption, which in turn is wired to another body lying under a sheet.  MESMER tells them that MADELEINE is truly dead – and the only thing that can bring her back is the life force of another member of the Usher family – he reveals ROWENA’s body under the sheet; it transpires that she is in fact a long-lost cousin of RODERICK’s.  MESMER forces EDGAR to choose between the two: if his wife lives, he loses his beloved MADELEINE forever, but if he chooses to save MADELEINE, he will sacrifice ROWENA.  ABBERLINE tells him he must resist MESMER’s insane bargain, but EDGAR succumbs to the madness of the House at last, and throws a switch to channel ROWENA’s vital juices into MADELEINE.  But the MADELEINE who wakes has no soul, and is empowered with superhuman strength. She flings MESMER to one side and heads off to find her brother.  EDGAR begs God’s forgiveness for what he has done, as ABBERLINE tells him they have to stop the rampaging MADELEINE.

Scene Seven
USHER hears MADELEINE right outside the door of his chambers, and DEMELZA rushes to lock it, but too late.  MADELEINE enters and embraces RODERICK in a Dance Of Death, as she reveals her lifelong hatred of him and how he was always their mother’s favourite.  But she recounts how she plotted her revenge, and returned to capture her brother’s heart in an incestuous relationship (THE FALL).  As they dance, the walls of the House Of Usher start to break apart around them, and EDGAR and ABBERLINE arrive just in time to rescue DEMELZA from the crumbling house, as RODERICK and MADELEINE are buried under the falling masonry.

Scene Eight
On the road outside, EDGAR, DEMELZA and ABBERLINE watch as the House sinks into the blood-red tarn.  EDGAR asks where his future now lies, and DEMELZA says that wherever he goes, she would only too happily accompany him.

Epilogue
Plymouth Docks.  EDGAR and DEMELZA have just married, and are heading off for a new life in Australia.  They encounter ABBERLINE who is about to board the same ship, to take MESMER to his well-deserved punishment in the penal colonies.  Just then, the INNKEEPER and his WIFE arrive too – business has been bad since they lost the Usher account, and they too are seeking a fresh start.  As they all board the boat they sing about the opportunities Australia has to offer (BACK DOWN UNDER), but they fail to notice that the Captain and First Mate are in fact RODERICK and MADELEINE, and as the curtain falls they all set sail on the HMS USHER.

END

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