The Hypochondriac, Almeida, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

There are more quacks in this Molière comedy than there are in Ducktastic. But if anyone deserves to be exploited by medical charlatans, it's the hypochondriac anti-hero, Argan. Every phoney physician in France seems to have had the privilege of sticking a tube up this guy's rectum and, as his wise brother declares in Richard Bean's witty and larkily lavatorial new translation, "With friends like these, who needs enemas?"

Being as mean as he is morbidly self-concerned, he wants to force his daughter, Angelique, to marry a doctor, so that he can have round-the-clock care. She, of course, has other plans. Luckily, there's a smart-cookie, mischievous maid (played here with a lovely deflating Northern directness by Lyndsey Marshall) who helps out by running rings round her master.

Lindsay Posner's exuberant production at the Almeida revels in the play's blend of sharp satire and knockabout toilet humour. There are so many jars of preserved faeces on stage that you feel that falling between two stools would be an occupational hazard in this house. Henry Goodman makes a hilariously fretful monomaniac, his face working with suspicion as he strains to monitor every motion and to ensure that none slip past unnoticed.

The quacks here are a wonderfully eccentric and competitive gang. Best of all is John Marquez as the weirdo Thomas, who thinks that the way to a woman's heart is to invite her to your next autopsy.

The inspired solution to Argan's problem is that he should become a doctor himself. What cheaper or more trustworthy bedside manner could you hope for than your own? He's inducted into the profession here in a macabre revue put on by students of the Medical Faculty which proves that what you need to be a doctor is not scientific knowledge, but just a white coat and the ability to reel off Latin mumbo-jumbo. Ronni Ancona pulls off an enjoyable double as Argan's outrageously two-faced wife and, in the climactic romp, as the first body he dissects.

The revised ending, which embraces the irony that Molière fatally collapsed while playing the central role, feels too tacked-on. Before that, though, the production shows that, just as laughter is the best medicine, the topic of medicine can often produce the best laughter.

To 7 January (020-7359 4404)

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