Wednesday, 30 September 2009

The Hypochondriac - Richmond Theatre

The Hypochondriac by Molière
Adapted by Roger McGough
Director: Gemma Bodinetz
Reviewer: James Higgins

The Hypochondriac is the unusual marriage of a 17th century French play reworked by a 21st century Mersey Poet.

First written and performed by French dramatist Molière in 1673 as Le Malade Imaginaire (The Imaginary Invalid) it tells the tale of a miserly old man (Argan) who despite his good health imagines he is plagued by every ailment known to science. The medical profession in the form of his doctors and apothecaries know this only too well and seek to exploit and extort him at each and every opportunity.

There is a distinct twist to this plot as Molière was, at the time of penning the play, ill and exhausted. He had been battling a condition (probably TB) for over five years which unfairly earned him a reputation as a hypochondriac, leading him to create the character of Argan for himself. If this wasn't already ironic enough he then died hours after his last performance of the play after he had earlier collapsed on stage.

This new production by the English Touring Theatre in association withThe Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse, was adapted by the genial Scouser Roger McGough, a performer and playwright best known for his Poetry. Last year he had already taken on Tartuffe, Molière's vicious attack on religious hypocrisy and adapted this for the modern audience to critical acclaim.

This time, as previously, McGough has rewritten the play in verse, to hilarious effect. Despite its origins traditional British Lavatory humour is the order of the day as the play twists and turns like Argan's troubled bowels.
The set (designed by Mike Britton) is an unusual one, but one that works well. The entire play is set in Argan's rooms which consist of wooden paneling on all sides in an effective boudoir style with many entrances and exits through which the cast smoothly pass.

There are good dependable performances throughout, Brigid Zengeni (Beline) as the money grabbing stepmother who has her eye on Argans fortune, Lucinda Raikes (Angelique) and Jake Harders (Cleante) enthrall us as the star crossed lovers that yearn for family approval. Toby Dantzic's (Thomas) entertaining performance as the ill fitting suitor to Angelique had the audience cringing and creasing up with laughter at his characters strange mannerisms and awkwardness.

Clive Francis (Argan) was mischievous and convincing as the hypochondriac shown the error of his ways but the best performance of all was Liverpudlian Leanne Best (Toinette) playing the sharp witted maid in a strong regional accent which added to the warmth and humour especially when McGough's verse rhymed some fantastic English slang with comical Franglais that it had no right to. If offered the chance to see, say Oui.

Photos: Robert Day
The Hypochondriac runs until Sat 3rd October.

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