Retro Review: The Imaginary Invalid by Molière (2008)

Molière’s The Imaginary Invalid was originally performed as a ‘comedy-ballet’ for the court of King Louis XIV in 1673. In accordance with its comedic tradition the play is ironically most famous as being the playwright’s final comedy – with Molière collapsing on stage whilst playing the title role and dying shortly after! Queen’s College Music and Drama Society presented a highly entertaining interpretation of the traditional farce. Ambitiously directed by Ben Landau it was an often darkly satirical reinvention that successfully updated the play for a contemporary audience.

The scene is set for comedy by Argan, a hypochondriac who is - unfortunately - not ill enough to prevent himself from meddling in the lives of those around him. He is surrounded by traditional archetype family characters: the evil-step-mother; the concerned brother; the fussing maid who knows too much; and the loving daughter. From outside the family come the dashing lover and the boring suitor (and his father) to vie for the daughter’s affections and a collection of eerie professionals.

In this production we were introduced to these many characters in the wonderfully choreographed sequence that opened the show. A character procession was a beautiful way of setting the scene without explicitly stating to the audience all existing relationships. It also gave each actor the opportunity to capture effective characterization without dialogue which was both a credit to their expressive skills and a teaser for the audience of what was to come.

With farce it is often difficult to maintain a consistently high level of comedic energy and to the credit of the cast; they kept it at a maximum for most of the performance. Highlights included the contrasting of short Monsieur Diaforus with his very tall son Thomas. The physical comedy of this pair was hilarious, as were their university pretensions!

The production team delivered a beautifully realised aesthetic. Katie Skillington’s set design contrasted large geometric construction with intricate details; and Laura Ulph’s slightly surreal costumes literally became part of the characters. The dominating palette of black, white and sepia also gave an ideal canvas for Tom Fifield’s imaginative lighting design. Check out the photos:

The original score composed by Musical Director Anna Van Veldhuisen both complemented and enhanced the action on the stage with the live gypsy band adding yet another layer to the performance. Further music was enjoyed outside the theatre during interval when we were treated to an Eastern European inspired series of performance artworks that performers seemed to enjoy as much as the actual play.

It’s interesting to perhaps interpret this play in terms of our contemporary reliance on large pharmaceutical companies to provide us with medicine. The sinister lurking presence of the Three Doctors gives a menacing quality to those who value the business of medicine over the practice. Perhaps like Argan we should all become doctors and treat ourselves. I would prescribe this play to myself, as enjoying the Imaginary Invalid made me forget my lingering cold – and after all laughter is the best medicine!

Review for Union House Theatre Semester 2 > 2008