It’s a funny thing, hysteria. It can mean a terrible, debilitating disease caused by a functional disturbance of the nervous system or that you have found something extremely comical. This double-meaning suggests an essential aspect of the comic art: hysteria results from one’s thoughts functioning at the boundary of reason, and comedy is the art of testing boundaries. Indeed the happy union of medical dysfunction and comical function are exploited to their full in Le Malade Imaginaire. Molière was able to get full ironic mileage out of a man so acutely aware of his medical condition that he created his own diseases, only to be blind to the betrayal of his wife. The playwright happily wraps these up with a wry mockery of the seventeenth century medical profession and a dash of good old-fashioned farce. The performers have to work very hard with such a text to garner a good response from the audience and I am not entirely sure they manage it. But all the cast, without fail, have confidence and assurance both in stance and delivery of their lines. There is a wonderful rhythm about the exchanges particularly between Argan (Deval Desai) the hypochondriac and the feisty maid Toinette (Julia Morgan). Angélique (Ewa Szypula) not only looks perfect for the part but conveys genuine emotion. When Jeremy Gould enters as the doctor Monsieur Purgon the stage flickers with a dramatic spark that should be sustained throughout the entire play. Yet these positive aspects do not allow the cast to overcome the underlying problem that complexity of character is not immediately apparent in the words themselves; the onus lies on the actors to “think” it into their performance. The cast as a whole need to examine their lines and make them bigger, more apparent, more detailed. Instead there is broad brushstroke effect throughout the entire play, which unfortunately verges on the monotonous. Nonetheless definitely one for the francophiles.
ARCHIVE: 3rd Week TT 2003

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