The Hypochondriac

The Hypochondriac
By Molière, in a new version by Hilary Bell. Darlinghurst Theatre Co. June 9 – July 1, 2018

Molière’s play is set in the bedchamber of Argan, a rich, neurotic and gullible man who employs adoctor and an apothecary who treat his imaginary illnesses on a full-time basis because of the lucrative fees they can charge. Add a greedy wife, a sleazy lawyer, an outspoken maid and a petulant daughter and you have the makings of a comedy that fits the genre in which Moliere chose to write, one that is based on double images – wise and foolish, right and wrong, good and bad.

Hilary Bell’s adaptation has refocused Molière’s “critique of a society obsessed with quick fixes” to include more contemporary issues: greedy drug companies, their ‘cure all’ advertising campaigns, susceptible patients and unscrupulous doctors who over-prescribe.

Put this in the hands of director Jo Turner – who admits he loves both ‘high’ and ‘low’ comedy – and you have a production that not only mixes the puns and pratfall zaniness of commedia, but retains Molière’s underlying message which Turner describes simply as … “Don’t be a dickhead.”

Darren Gilshenan brings his well-known energy, physicality and comic timing to the role of Argan. Confined to the satin-curtained set and satin-covered semi-circular bed designed by Michael Hankin, Gilshenan complains and cavorts, cajoles and coaxes, creating an Argan who is both clown and cuckold, dependent on the constant accessibility and forbearance of his shrewd maid/housekeeper – and foil – Toinette.

Lucia Mastrantone shines in this role, savouring the opportunity to use her own comic timing to create a Toinette who is sassy, cheekily disrespectful and astutely in control of every aspect of the household. Her look-alike scene as a doctor towards the end of the play makes the most of the mischief of farce.

Sophie Gregg is elegantly two-faced and schemingly duplicitous as Argan’s money-hungry wife, Beline, and Emma Harvie is gawkily hilarious as his hard done-by daughter, Angeliquie. Harvie uses the erratic movements and gesticulations of the commedia zaniesin herdrum-beating temper tantrums and nonplussed bewilderment.

Gabriel Fancopurt delights in the triple roles of Angelique’s lover, Cleante, the shady lawyer, Bonnefoy and Argan’s brother Beralde – playing all three of them in one of the final scenes.

The unethical, overprescribing Doctor Diafoirus is portrayed with sneering poise by Monica Sayers, and Jamie Oxenbould is comically droll as his bumbling, inarticulate son, Thomas.

The whole ensemble comes together at times in ‘entr’scene’ pharmaceutical advertisements that irreverently replace the pastorals of the original play. Bell’s lyrics are set to music composed by Phillip Johnston – and the cast obviously enjoys the flippant satire and bold costumes Hankin has devised.

If, like Hilary Bell, it is laughter and music that makes your heart sing in the theatre, you’ll find it in stacks in this fast-moving, bedpan-infested adaptation. Bell has found the words that transport Molière’s characters into a more contemporary satirical frame. Turner and his cast have realised them in a production that is, in his words, a “larger than life world full of farce, farts and fraudsters.”

Carol Wimmer

Photographer: Robert Catto

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