Review: The Hypochondriac (Theatre Royal Bath)

 Cheltenham Everyman Theatre

“With friends like that, who needs enemas?”

The Hypochondriac, by Richard Bean, is a new translation of Molière’s Le malade imaginaire (The Imaginary Invalid), and co-directed by Lindsay Posner and Lisa Blair.

A highly animated play, Posner and Blair’s direction brings a multitude of fascinating characterisations to make the most of these age-old stories and bawdy universal tales: the need for attention; unrequited love; enforced marriage; being wedded for money… and so on and so forth.

The play is made brilliantly contemporary by the clever use of wandering minstrel entertainment comprising of three patients in their rear-revealing hospital gowns. Royce Cronin and John Sandberg each on guitar, and Joseph Hardy on trumpet, accompany the singer, Andrew Bevis, and his constantly changing wardrobe to reflect the era of each genre and music style; a charismatic troupe that greatly contribute to Bean’s delightfully outrageous adaptation with these hilarious songs by Richard Thomas.

Behind these roving musicians can be seen a profoundly appropriate image by taboo artists Gilbert & George; this display of potentially controversial modern art during the modern musical sections illustrates the fact that no matter what age, class, creed or time in history, we as human beings still all find the same things funny, especially when it involves bodily functions and our obsession with them.

Paul Wills design includes a beautifully detailed set, showing half a circular room styled in the Louis XIV era and displaying numerous specimen jars lining the shelves on the walls, but once the audience is made aware of what each jar actually contains, even the lavish scenery cannot escape the farce.

These fascinating characterisations are provided by a superb cast including Tony Robinson, whose delivery is always wonderfully entertaining. Tracie Bennett, Imogen Stubbs, Jordan Metcalfe, Lisa Diveney, Craig Gazey, Michael Thomas and David Collings each in turn bring delight to the audience. Gazey’s portrayal of the young Diafoirehoea has a pleasing original flavour, charmingly grotesque even amongst the madness, while Michael Thomas’ entrance brings sanity to the scenes and welcome relief in contrast. And Tracie Bennett, who is beautifully animated in her expression and body, shows terrific attention to detail in every action and her reaction to what is happening on stage.

Richard Bean’s adaptation has the audience quietly chuckle and laugh out loud, frequently gasp in shock, and occasionally all in the same breath. Examining the basics of all human instinct and need, this fantastic farce is an excellent concoction of period and contemporary comedy.

The Theatre Royal Bath’s production of The Hypochondriac was adapted by Richard Bean and directed by Lindsay Posner and Lisa Blair, and is touring the UK until the end of November 2014.

TJM

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