Moliere’s ‘The Hypochondriac’ tells the tale of …well, just that – an apparently ailing gentleman who aside from an obsession with his health, is also concerned to ensure his daughter is in possession of a suitable suitor before his ever-ensuing death. And obviously, a suitable suitor in this case constitutes not just one who will take care of his daughter, but one who will take care of his medical condition. What could be more pleasing (as well as financially practical) than the prospect of a doctor for a son-in-law? But as is the case with so many of those father/daughter discrepancies over just exactly what does constitute suitable boyfriend material, inevitably there is dischord between the two and an up-till-now obedient daughter takes a deviant turn for the worst when she realises that the man her father has in mind is not the paramour of her choosing, named Cleante. Since her mother, Beline, provides a suitably lax role model, having only married with Argan herself on account of his wealth. Toinette is the family’s maid servant left with the role of surrogate supervisor and protector of Angelique’s passions as she embroils herself in a battle with her master over his daughter’s nuptial fate.
What ensues is an hour and a half of comedia dell’arte courtesy of the alternatingly doleful and daft pen of the 18th century playwright Moliere. However, a good script does not (necessarily) an amusing play maketh, – a quick-witted cast is needed too, and this production’s actors certainly rose to the occasion. Mark Edel-Hunt, one of the University’s most prolific and talented actors pratttled perfectly as Argan, the peakish and perturbed patriach, and was equally matched by Elinor Cook’s highly adept performance as the petulant yet impassioned Angelique.
Whilst singling anyone out from such a strong ensemble is always difficult, it has to be said that Corrie-Ann Burton’s turn as Toinette very nearly stole the show. Perfect comic timing and a characterisation which could have rivalled a French and Saunders sketch in its complete union of the knowingly cynical and the just plain silly provoked giggling in most on a mere glance at her pursed lips/hands on hips and goggle-eyed stance. With just the right combination of risable over-zealousness and shrewd understatement, Burton’s performance perfectly encapsulated the distresses and absurdities thrown into Argan’s household by the eternal marriage debate. Essentially, the prophesy of Argan’s death with the spectacle of Toinette’s devilish screeches and limbs protruding from out of the depths of Doctor Purgeon’s cape in some sort of Alien pastiche was the pinnacle of sublime ridiculousness.
Similarly, it would be unjust not to mention Gerard Kelly’s portrait of Thomas Lillicrap, Argan’s junior medical practitioner and future son-in-law of preference. Gauche would be too dignified a description to give a youth with a gorilla-like gait. With a grin which threatens to turn into a gorging of Angelique’s pretty pout at any moment, and a gyrating pelvis that might just poke her eye out if she gets too close, it is hardly surprising that Angelique’s preference lies with her primary paramour. The scenes of seduction featuring a flinging around of hormones in all the wrong directions between Angelique and her two suitors was pure pantomime – it could only have been improved with a rotating stage in order that we were able to view each and every perfectly appropriated expression.
Rachel King as a mildly hysteric and gothic mother with black veil and undulating body language to match, Dan West as Cleante, Angelique’s music teacher-come-beloved, and Simon Watt as the doctor all too eager to pronounce certain terminallity on Argan’s fate provided equally humorous performances which only served to enrich a farce already full-to-the-brim with laughs.
Benedict Hitchins’ solo directorial debut did everything a good interpretation should – made relevant and light the issues of the play for a contemporary audience, whilst not fearing any which may seem archaic.
So it appears that I’ve arrived at the end of the rave review without a bad word to say about this production. But in true critics’ style (and not wishing to let the cast down, who commented on how every nouse review of a play always manages to get to the last paragraph before finally divulging a final ‘but’) my only criticism is that I auditioned and didn’t get in. On the one hand, I couldn’t help but envy the cast for the sort of production which could only have been a romp to rehearse. Similarly I wouldn’t be left with the task of having to write this, I wouldn’t have spent what would otherwise have been a sedate Sunday evening laughing my socks off. So I suppose I left with no choice to but to give praise where praise is due. And I really can’t help but praise ‘The Hypochondriac’.