by Molière in a version by Richard Bean music and lyrics by Richard Thomas.
Richmond Theatre The Green TW9 1QJ To 29 November 2014.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 871 7651.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 24 November.
Laughter, folly and death.
This was Molière’s last play and it did for him. The scourge of institutions, who’d laughed at marriage where economic power replaced love, at fake religious devotion, at any place where self-interest was allowed to fester – finished by shoving an enema up the backside of medicine, with a fury only George Bernard Shaw would later match.
Theatre Royal Bath’s co-directed revival of Richard Bean’s 2005 version plays for riotous response – the second-act enema administration by a doctor keeping his regular post-Communion appointment with confirmed invalid Argan is rough humour at its best, with its monstrous machine, indiscreet noises and the patient’s almost sexual delight. The tone is hardly surprising, given Bean’s subsequent comedies, but it has limitations.
There’s little room for the humanity Molière injects to counter-balance the foolishness and injustice obsessions cause. And the post-commedia dell’arte device of Argan’s nurse-servant Angelique dressing as a doctor needs more careful direction to highlight the patient’s foolishness.
Like much of the fast-paced comedy, it’s well acted, but things hurtle mechanistically along until the curtain descends, brightly decorated with Gilbert and George’s fundamental art, for the interval. Afterwards, matters are better, partly due to the arrival of Argan’s sensible brother Beralde, given apt gravity by Michael Thomas. At last good sense is no longer left to Argan’s servant Toinette (Tracie Bennett, admirably peeved and protesting), but someone with equal social status who can organise opposition to the doctoral grotesques who profit from Argan’s obsession.
Here Tony Robinson’s grizzled Argan, so sure he’s sinned against by his critics, learns the truth, as his wife Beline, on her seventh aged husband, gives herself away at his supposed death, Imogen Stubbs’ delight contrasting Lisa Diveney’s loving daughter with her grief.
If the final reduction ad absurdum of Argan’s enrolment as a doctor is underpowered, the production scores in its sudden dark ending when the patient-doctor collapses. Having written a character whose rude health is proved by his withstanding the worst medicine can throw at him, the playwright collapsed onstage in the role and died shortly after, as life and death turned ironic comedy into tragic irony.
Argan: Tony Robinson.
Toinette: Tracie Bennett.
Beline: Imogen Stubbs.
Cleante: Jordan Metcalfe.
Angelique: Lisa Diveney.
Thomas: Craig Gazey.
Beralde: Michael Thomas.
Diafoirehoea: David Collings.
Deuxfois: John Sandberg.
Fleurant: Joseph Hardy.
Purgeon: Royce Cronin.
Singer: Andrew Bevis.
Directors: Lindsay Posner, Lisa Blair.
Designer: Paul Wills.
Lighting: Paul Pyant.
Sound: Christopher Shutt.
Musical Director: Andrew Bevis.
Movement: Javier de Frutos.
Magic consultant: Scott Penrose.
Associate costume: Joan Hughes.