The Imaginary Invalid
directed by Shohidur Rahman
Fast, furious, and wickedly funny, Moliere’s classic comedy is a forerunner of the modern farce and a chilling reminder of how the appallingly selfish often live in a hell entirely of their own making. Argan, a self-centred hypochondriac who has already wasted a good many years in nursing his imagined ailments, goes one step too far when he attempts to marry off his daughter, Angelique, against her will to a creepy doctor, purely so he can further indulge his morbid obsession with his own health. Fearing separation from her true love, Cleante, Angelique turns to the sharp-tongued, quick-witted family maid, Toinette, to save the day. Toinette, with the help of Argan’s worldly wise brother, Beralde, and the odd cunning disguise, manages to turn the tables on her master, forcing him to face a few home truths, and exposing Argan’s much younger wife, Belinde, for the scheming gold-digger she really is, along the way.
There is much to commend in Shohidur Rahman’s pacy and spirited production. Rahman has a sensitivity to the rhythms of the piece and drives forward the action at a suitably cracking pace, aided by a very heavy pruning of the text. He has wisely kept the play in period, with actors in elegant Restoration costumes, he has some fine actors within his eight-strong cast (with Stuart Draper’s Argan and Simon Phillips’s wryly detached Beralde deserving particular mention) and he encourages the actors to work with their whole bodies, not just from the neck up.
Nonetheless, there are numerous signs of an overly heavy directorial hand. Moliere is one of history’s greatest comic writers and his characters and situations are funny in their own right – the play simply does not need the amount of extraneous, unmotivated comic business which Rahman has chosen to add.
Moreover, the actors at times seem over-choreographed , as if they have not always been allowed to develop their movements and speech from a sense of internal motivation. This is a shame, as Moliere’s characters, although stylised and larger-than-life, like all the best caricatures, are funny precisely because they are exaggerated versions of real people – we have all met people like Argan, if a bit less extreme – and the play works best when the humour is rooted in an organic sense of character. Indeed, the funniest moments of this production are when the characters spark off one another, as in some of Argan’s confrontations with Toinette and his final showdown with Beralde.
Overall, then, this is a robust and amusing production, but one senses it could have been even funnier if the director had placed more trust in Moliere and in his cast.
The main Running time: approximately 1 hour, 5 minutes with no interval.
Reviews by Melanie Branton for Theatreworld Internet Magazine