Thursday, 25 June 2009

The Hypochondriac - Liverpool Playhouse

The Hypochondriac by Moliere
Adapted by Roger McGough
Director: Gemme Bodinetz
Reviewer: Marie Kenny

Laughter is the best medicine. It’s also free, unlike the medical bills of someone diagnosed with every illness that ever existed.

Wealthy gentleman Argan faces a never ending stream of invoices for pills and potions in ‘The Hypochondriac’, a co-production between the Liverpool Playhouse and the English Touring Theatre. Following the success of ‘Tartuffle’ last year, Scouse poet Roger McGough has taken on Moliere’s final production and transformed it from 17th century prose into clever and charming verse.

The plot centres around Argan who hates Doctor Purgeon’s high bills, but is in perpetual need of being cured. He sees an ideal opportunity in marrying his daughter Angelique to the son of a Doctor, the terribly awkward and slow nincompoop Thomas, so that he can receive free medical treatment.

However, when it comes to love, Argan is clueless. He fails to see his daughter Angelique has other ideas and has secretly fallen in love with the more desirable Cleante and that his wife Beline, is eagerly waiting for his death and the riches and freedom she dreams of. So it’s up to the maid to save the day, Toinette sets out to turn Argan’s life around. With a witty intelligence that far exceeds her master and a good, honest heart, she shows him the truth that’s been hidden from him for so long.

The play opens with Argan passing wind and appearing in his nightgown with an empty chamber pot declaring “Rien. Rien. Je regrette, rien”. The toilet humour reappears throughout but admirably manages to sit alongside the farcical situations and sophisticated and clever rhyming of McGough’s verse with ease. Clive Francis as Argan delivers a wonderful performance filled with mischief and dignity.

Liverpool talent Leanne Best takes on the role of Toinette, the larger than life, scheming maid and keeps the audience entranced throughout. Disguised as an Italian doctor, complete with ridiculous fake moustache, to expose the flaws of the medical profession her master believes in, she brings a certain magic to the farcical situation.

With direction from Gemma Bodinetz, this fast paced production is packed with great humour and warmth from start to finish. This is an outstanding production with a marvellous cast, certainly this season’s one to watch for the Playhouse. Advance bookings have been so popular that the run has been extended for another week in Liverpool, before commencing a National tour, one that should make Liverpool proud.

The Hypochondriac runs until the 19th July
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