Translating French-language plays into English, international theatre company Exchange Theatre’s new show The Doctor in Spite of Himself is an adaptation of Molière’s rarely-performed farce. Presented as part of the Bastille Festival 2016, which includes a series of workshops and French performances, the play is performed in English and in French on alternate nights. While there was some great acting and comedic moments in this adaptation, Exchange Theatre’s show did not utilise the text perhaps as much as it could have, which created an uncomfortable piece of work.
The story is about Sganarelle (David Furlong), a drunken woodcutter who abuses his wife Martine (Jacqueline Berces), and the revenge she seeks in order to teach him a lesson. When she overhears two men in need of a doctor to cure their employer’s daughter, Martine decides this would be a good opportunity to deliver her plan. She convinces the two that Sganarelle is a successful doctor, albeit an eccentric one, who will only cure patients once he has been physically beaten. The two men find Sganarelle in his woodshop and do as Martine instructs them, forcing him to see the sick Lucinde (Anita Adam Gabay) as a patient. However even without the medical degree, Sganarelle uses the gullibility of those around him and his gift of the gab to convince them he is a doctor. With a bit of luck and understanding, Lucinde is cured, and the play ends happily.
Furlong who directs and stars in the main role, is superb. He embodies Molière’s Sganarelle perfectly and the writer’s comedy is expressed brilliantly through his performance. His transformation from drunkard to “sophisticated” doctor, who is easily bought off and charismatic towards the ladies, is a fun character to watch. Matt Mella’s Lucas, a servant in Lucinde’s household, is hilarious and his comic timing commendable. The interactions between Mella and Furlong were particularly great, as their high energy physical comedy plays a big role in the show.
While some of the cast do well to make parts of this play enjoyable, there are elements of it that bring down the energy created by the performers. At points, the set pieces seemed too difficult to change and seemed to be getting in the way. At other points, the costume pieces kept falling off the performers seemingly unintentionally, and props were awkwardly handled. It seems trivial to mention points like these, but when put together, it made it seem like those on stage felt very out of place and uncomfortable in their surroundings which was not pleasant to watch. What adds to this discomfort is the loud music that blares at different point throughout. While it adds to the scene in which the two men attack Sganarelle as it is comedic and fast-paced, at other times it is so overpowering that the actors have to scream to be heard over it, and yet their speech is still unclear.
The Doctor in Spite of Himself does include some brilliant casting and humorous action. However, the awkwardness of some scenes, and the discomfort created by some of the unpolished performances made Furlong’s adaptation just not a very enjoyable piece of theatre.
The Doctor in Spite of Himself is at Drayton Arms Theatre until 17th July.