The Hypochondriac, Playhouse, Liverpool
Wednesday 08 July 2009
Roger McGough has added his own medicinal properties to Molière's The Hypochondriac, upping the laugher quotient in an elixir that's easy to swallow though you might want to hold your nose. This "McGoughiere", as Liverpool Playhouse and English Touring Theatre describe their latest co-production, is certainly a cure-all for those who like their 17th-century French comedy watered down. With plenty of farts and faeces gags, some of the rhyming couplets McGough has inflicted on Molière's prose are plain potty. But given that the playwright himself wasn't averse to occasional grammatical mistakes and mixed metaphors as well as finishing some lines with filler words, McGough's concoction may be more faithful to the original than it seems.
With boisterous music and movement, Gemma Bodinetz's production bristles with infectious energy, keeping pace with the pulled-about rhymes and slack Liverpudlian patina of McGough's text. In Clive Francis's Argan, the sick man of the play's title, we are presented with no dry old stick but a rather genial character whose paternal tyranny is diluted with twinkly whimsy. The relish with which he pursues his bodily functions while trying to marry off his daughter to an imbecilic creep (Toby Dantzic), fawn over his money-grabbing wife (Brigid Zengeni), and examine his physicians' bills is irresistible.
A sympathetic daughter, Lucinda Raikes charms as Cléante, conveying a doe-eyed longing for her beau, a delightfully rakish-looking Jake Harders. As Argan's brother, Simon Coates brings a dash of common sense, trying to cure him of his affliction – a belief in doctors and their endless and expensive pills, piercings, purgings and potions.
The only lapse in Leanne Best's impishly saucy maid Toinette comes when, disguised as a doctor from Pa-du-a (you're mad-you-are... rhymes McGough) her heavy Italian accent becomes a bit of a moustached mouthful.
Mike Britton's simple, adaptable set serves its purpose, without distracting the eye, except when an enormous door opens to reveal shelf upon shelf of specimens. Scatological humour abounds but at least there's no actual toilet tipping. All in all, it's quite a tonic this theatrical compound, most efficacious, as former Scaffold member McGough cheekily suggests, in nearly every case.
Until 18 July (0151-709 4776) then touring from 15 September to 14 November ( www.ett.org.uk )
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