REVIEW: The Hypochondriac at Cambridge Arts Theatre

Tony Robinson.

Tony Robinson. - Credit: Archant

On until Saturday, November 15.

This play is loosely based on Moliere’s Le Malade imaginaire. It’s about as loose as the stools it persistently refers to. It lacks any poetry, wit, style or staging. It is an evening talking about poo.

Moliere’s play was a satire on doctors who prey on our fears and vanities and there may be scope for that today, but this placebo fails to have any effect.

In 2011, Richard Bean’s One Man Two Guvnors was the funniest thing on the West End stage. Bean took the Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni’s 18th century farce A Servant of Two Masters, set it in the 1960s and it went up like a rocket. Yet his reworking of Moliere is turgid.

It’s not helped that Tony Robinson’s delivery is flat, all on one tone. As the hypochondriac Argan, obsessed with what comes out of his body, what comes out of his mouth is about as inspiring as what we see coming out of the other end. It’s all one matter.

The rest of the cast deserved better. Tracie Bennett (who from 2010 to 2013 was off the scale as Judy Garland in End of the Rainbow, winning a shower of awards from London to Broadway) does her best to give the play the kiss of life.

Some humour and finesse was brought to the play by Imogen Stubbs as Beline, the avaricious wife, and Michael Thomas as Beralde, Argan’s brother. Fine actors will deliver a polished performance whatever muck you put them in.

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The best moments were from the musicians who open the play and herald the scenes. If I could have spent the evening listening to Andrew Bevis sing and Joseph Hardy play the trumpet, I might not have been sitting there with my hand over my mouth and sometimes over my forehead.

See it if you like lavatorial humour. Otherwise, take two aspirins and go to bed.