Just dying for a laugh

The Hypochondriac

Malvern Theatres

*****

RICHARD Bean’s version of Moliere’s Hypochondriac might surprise or trouble some purists but it is a magnificent interpretation of Moliere’s intentions and results in an evening of wonderful entertainment.

The play is a trenchant satire against the absurdities of medicine as practiced in 17th century France, and it exposes the deceit and financial greed of the period as exercised through arranged marriages and bogus medical practices.

Argan is the pitiable hypochondriac who imagines he has every disease under the sun, cheerfully expends a fortune on quacks and bogus proponents of the medical arts and determines to force his daughter into a marriage against her heart and desires to an oafish young trainee doctor because he wants an accessible practitioner in the family and thereby cheaper treatments.

The interventions of his brother and his wily servant Tony Robinson and Imogen StubbsToinette ensure that the outcomes are humorous and happy:  the scheming stepmother is outwitted in her attempts to inherit the wealth of an eighth aging husband, and the fool Argan is managed, fooled and manipulated into ensuring the least damaging future for all.

The evening was full of raucous extravagance – the repeated forced application of the enema to Argan’s posterior, the careful examination of his stools, the drinking of urine and the final magician’s tricks all provide a rich evening’s entertainment.

Tony Robinson and Imogen Stubbs as Argan and wife  Beline. Picture: Simon Annand

Tony Robinson as the mean old invalid and Imogen Stubbs as his wife bring wonderful comic voices to complement their perfomances. The cast is very talented, the acting appropriately exaggerated.

Craig Gazey, as Thomas with his manufactured and rehearsed lines, is hilarious. Tracie Bennett’s Toinette was masterful with great range, variety and subtlety to manage the duping of Argan into accepting his daughter’s marriage to Cleante.

Moliere’s original play, Le Malade Imaginaire, is introduced by a Prologue and some song and dance activity that is cleverly interpreted by Richard Bean into something that the audience can truly engage with.

The songs devised by Richard Thomas – Germs are Everywhere and Where would we be without drugs? and indeed Blood in my Poo – bring a modern relevance, if some lavatorial humour,  to the piece from the outset, and are a clever way of handling an aspect of Moliere’s writing that would have a much less meaningful impact on a modern audience.

The songs at the outset, with the visual backdrop of a biological image from the microscope of colourful blood cells, and the musicians in green surgical theatre scrubs, are in stark contrast to the period set and costume that greet us as soon as the screen is raised, to reveal Argan in his wheelchair, nightgown and surrounded by tall bookshelves that have been taken over by jars of samples and vintage pill bottles.

The costumes are gorgeous, the lighting transports us into another realm towards the end of the play and is well used to add comic effects as well.

It is an ironic fact that Moliere died following the fourth performance of this play. This version makes a classical comedy into colourful and brilliant entertainment for a modern audience and it would appeal to a wide age range. To 08-11-14

Timothy Crow

03-11-14 

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