The Hypochondriac

Molière, adapted by Roger McGough
Sheffield Theatres
Crucible Theatre

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Edward Hogg in The Hypochondriac Credit: Manuel Harlan
Garmon Rhys (Thomas) and Chris Hannon (Doctor Diafoirus in The Hypochondriac Credit: Manuel Harlan
Saroya-Lily Ratnavel and Jessica Ransom in The Hypochondriac Credit: Manual Harman

Molière's witty and entertaining play Le Malade imaginaire is reworked by poet and children's author Roger Mc Gough to provide a brilliantly funny entertainment for contemporary theatre audiences.

McGough's adaptation includes audacious rhyming couplets, easy French phrases we learnt in school and unexpected leaps into accents other than French. Characterisation is outrageous and delightfully performed by a talented group of actor-singer-dancers, some playing a number of instruments including the spinet. Or what may be a spinet.

A hypochadriac is persuaded by doctors, and persuades himself, that he needs treatment for all sorts of maladies. This proves to be very expensive, so Argan decides to marry his lovely daughter to a doctor with rich relations in the profession to avoid the bills. Unfortunately, his daughter has just fallen in love with a different suitor. Meanwhile, Argan’s young and attractive second wife pretends to be concerned about his worsening condition but is in fact hoping to benefit from his demise. Soon!

At the heart of the production is Edward Hogg's Argan, the hypochondriac of the title, playing the obsessive character with due seriousness in order to draw out the farcical quality of the writing. Hogg is slight of build, has a fluidly expressive face, an armoury of comic gestures and perfect timing. He reminds me strongly of Chaplin.

Director Sarah Tipple doesn't miss a trick when it comes to comic business, whether it's Argan falling through a picture frame, the funny walks of Doctor Diafoirus (Chris Hannon) and his weird son Thomas (Garmon Rhys) or a crazy, foot-tapping dance performed by lovers Saroja-Lily Ratnavel and Zak Ghazi-Torbati (Angelique and Cleante).

The whole production and all of the actors are immersed in the conventions of farce. A first glimpse of the set shows a huge, untidy room full of old books, crumpled paper and a dangling skeleton. The costumes range from period authentic and brightly coloured to laugh-inducing and governed by the action. A curly wig has a life of its own.

Music is very important in the production and I would like to have found out more about it in the online programme. It certainly contributed vitally to the ethos of the period and is superbly performed by the instrumentalists. The whole cast could sing, and I was amazed at one point to hear the voice of an accomplished operatic soprano.

The audience loved the performance, laughed endlessly and applauded sequences of comic business with enthusiasm. There was a well-deserved standing ovation at the end. Any young person studying French A levels would be immediately inspired by Molière's text as well as this delightful adaptation.

Reviewer: Velda Harris

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