The Imaginary Invalid

Directed by Jordan Best

The Q Theatre. 12 Jul 2012

Advances in modern medicine, the advent of public health care, increasing affluence and the arrival of the internet have meant that many in the Western world have unprecedented choice and access to treatments for what ails them.

Many of these treatments are life-saving breakthroughs, easing the suffering of those afflicted with disease. Sometimes they’re a little more dubious, unnecessary, or can even do more harm than good.

However, this superfluous reliance on an indulgent health industry to solve all matter of problems is by no means a modern phenomenon; ‘The Imaginary Invalid’ points out that there has been an overzealous supply and demand for these services well before our time.

Originally written by renowned French playwright, Moliere, in the late 1600s, The Imaginary Invalid is a comedy in verse about a dysfunctional family that centres on a hypochondriac father with more money than sense.

Argan (Tony Turner) is a wealthy Frenchmen with two daughters, Angelique (Kiki Skountzos) and Louison (Teagan Ricketts), who has convinced himself, with the help of his quack practitioner (John Adamik), that he is deathly ill and must spend his fortune on prescriptions and treatments to attain good health – much to the disgust of his household.

Despite regular purging and bleedings, Argon’s health doesn’t seem to be improving, and his addiction to doctors leads him to arrange a marriage between Angelique and a local physician so that he can receive free health care.

However, Angelique is already deeply in love with Cleante (Riley Bell) and the thought of her having to marry the dim-witted Thomas Diafoirus (John Lombard) makes her stomach turn.

Meanwhile, Angelique’s adulterous, money grubbing stepmother Beline (Jordan Best) has plans to rid her from the picture by sending her to a nunnery, so that she can carry on with her plan to amass Argan’s fortune with the help of her lawyer/lover.

Luckily the family’s mischievous but clever servant, Toinette (Erin Pugh) is outraged by Argan’s arrangements for Angelique and devises a devious plan with his brother Beralde (Cameron Thomas) to prevent the marriage from going through – at the same time exposing Beline for the fraud she is and ridding Argan of his malingering.

Bursting with energy from go to whoa, this vibrant production is over the top in the best possible way, from the riotous melodrama to the bright, carnival-like set design by Wayne Shepherd.

The chemistry and comedic timing between cast members completely hit the mark, and all gave bold, bawdy, laugh-out-loud performances. However, the standout of the evening was the impish Erin Pugh as the slightly screwy Toinette.

While not an easy character to play as the glue that holds the storyline together, Pugh excels at the role and displays quite an aptitude for physical comedy. Her talent for rubbery facial expressions and slapstick antics rival those of Jim Cary, and she really was the crowd pleaser of the evening.

Jordan Best was also deliciously wicked and convincing as the cunning Beline and equally accomplished as director, offering a creative freedom to the cast that could be easily observed through the high level of development and ownership of the characters.

All in all, The Imaginary Invalid is a hysterical romp with a relentlessly boisterous cast, proving that laughter is the best medicine. And while medical treatments have changed dramatically since Moliere first penned his play, the underlying message still rings true louder than ever.  This production does Moliere’s work proud.

Deborah Hawke

When: 11 to 21 July
Where: The Q Theatre