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 The Theatreguide.London Review


The Hypochondriac
Almeida Theatre Winter 2005-2006

A classic farce rewritten to give it a contemporary flavour and energy, without losing any of its comedy. You couldn't ask much more of a revival.

In adapting Moliere's Malade Imaginaire, Richard Bean has broken the bounds of strict translation, keeping the basic plot and characters but rewriting much of the dialogue and inserting lots of comic shtick of his own.

The original can bear such rough handling and, a very few grating moments aside (a mention of the 'nitty gritty' hurts the ear), it makes Moliere as fresh as a Ray Cooney farce.

The central character has to cope, not only with the imagined state of his health, but with a wife who is impatiently waiting for him to get on with the business of dying, a daughter who has inconveniently fallen in love with a boy not of his choosing, and a maid who is the smartest person in the household and doesn't hesitate to let him know it.

Eventually he is brought to his senses, or to new forms of madness that are more convenient to those around him, and the route is a constantly comic one.

It's been a long while since I've read the original, so I can't swear that all the verbal and visual jokes about the patient's bowels are Bean's, but they sound like it - one minor criticism is that he relies a bit too much on the too-easy laughs of scatology.

The sequence in which the lovers have to improvise an opera in order to express their love without father catching on has a fresh feel, as does the elaborate mock ceremony at the end, when the patient believes he's being made a doctor so he can treat himself.

(As inventive as that sequence is, it - along with another original twist that follows - suggests an adaptor trying desperately to find a way to finish the play and working his way through two or three false endings in the process.)

Lindsay Posner directs with comic flair and the exactly right balance of respect for the original's strength and confidence of how much it can be played with.

Henry Goodman proves himself once again a master farceur, raising doubletakes, slow burns and explosions to a high art.

Lyndsey Marshal is pert and droll as the maid, and Carey Mulligan and Kris Marshall attractive as the lovers, though Ronni Ancona seems wasted in the underwritten role of the wife.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - The Hypochondriac (le Malade Imaginaire) - Almeida 2005