The Doctor In Spite Of Himself Review

Drayton Arms Theatre June 21 – July 13.  Reviewed by Claire Roderick

As part of Bastille Festival, Exchange Theatre present a modern version of Molière’s rarely produced play. Playing alternately in French and English, the energetic company manage to gloss over the clunky 17th century attitudes towards wife beating and marriage with a deft comic touch.

After one too many beatings from her wastrel husband Sganarelle (David Furlong), Martine (Jacqueline Berces) jumps at the chance of revenge by claiming that he is a wonderful doctor, but will only admit to his skills after being beaten. He is tasked to cure Lucinde (Anita Adam), who has “lost” her voice to avoid an unwanted marriage. There follows lots of flirting and sexual innuendo involving a randy nurse and her Neanderthal husband, crossdressing and general chaos as Sganarelle tries to help Lucinde. Watching over it all is a bust of Molière himself, and Martine controls events by flicking through a book of Molière’s works with delicious malice.

The talented cast give great performances, although it took a little while for me to get used to some of the stronger French accents and intonation. The biggest laughs were provided by Furlong’s Sganarelle – a charmingly buffoonish seducer, and Matt Mella’s Lucas – the epitome of braindead muscle.

The set design is interesting, but changes of scenery behind the curtain as dialogue continued were noisy and distracting, and the introduction of the window is very fiddly and may need a bit of a rethink. The soaring music adds even more energy to the production, with a fantastically atmospheric opening scene, although the volume needs to be adjusted. They just about got away with it in the workshop scene, where the men shouting at each other over the noise of the radio and saw felt natural, and the beat added to the cartoon violence, but at other times, dialogue was drowned out completely. These little niggles aside, director Furlong has created an upbeat and entertaining production, full of joie de vivre and mischief.