This co-production of The Hypochondriac by Liverpool Playhouse and English Touring Theatre brings together a delightful concoction of outstanding performances, direction and adept adaptation.
Scouse poet Roger McGough has adapted his second Molière play following his acclaimed version of the French playwright’s Tartuffe last year. Turning prose into verse (delivered beautifully by a talented ensemble of nine) McGough impresses once again with his take on Moliere’s Le Malade Imaginaire, translating his classic tale of a wealthy gentleman's obsession with the 'quack' medical profession into a fast-paced poetic bubble of laughter with a brisk two hour running time.
Outstanding performances come through Clive Francis as Argan, who hardly leaves the stage and is comfortably at ease as the hypochondriac. His movement and range of expression bring some golden comedy moments, such as when his character struggles with flatulence and disgustingly stores his own faeces.
Sharing nearly an equal amount of stage time is Leanne Best as Argan’s servant and most efficacious cure Toinette. Best plays her with a sharp tongue and shows her to be the real master of the household whilst keeping the audience equally under her spell - a real talent.
As Argan frets over his health, he tries matching his daughter Angelique (Lucinda Raikes) with a doctor’s son, played with hilarious awkwardness by Toby Dantzic, but fails to see the other goings on relating to his own future wealth and daughter’s true feelings.
On the design front, the colour yellow is thematically employed for both Argan’s robe and Toinette’s tights. Whether it was the intention of the director Gemma Bodinetz, artistic director at the Playhouse, or costume supervisor Jacquie Davies, it is the colour believed to be worn by Molière during his final hour when he suffered a haemorrhage whilst ironically performing the part of Argan himself.
McGough has cleverly found his own voice in this new production, even finding room for a lyric from his Scaffold days; it’s no wonder The Playhouse has extended its run in his home city for a further week, before it heads on a national tour.
- Michael Hunt