Stratford Festival’s “The Hypochondriac”

The Hypochondriac may have started a little later in Stratford’s season, but it was definitely worth the wait. A hilarious Restoration comedy which was just as relevant today as for Molière himself, The Hypochonriac is sure to tickle everyone’s funny bone!

I really enjoyed the frame narrative for the play; not only was it based on the true facts surrounding the original play itself, but also was a great nod to the time period in general. I loved the Commedia Dell’Arte performance, the juggling and music and tumbling, all beautiful examples of the kind of street art which was so prevalent at the time and heavily informed Molière’s theatre. We also get to see Molière’s company preparing for the performance, totally unaware of what will befall them later in the evening. When the “doctors” came out at the end of that section with the cell phone, I nearly feel out of my chair laughing; I love it when they’re able to give the standard “Please turn off your cell phone” message in a unique and funny way. 

The appearance of King Louis further solidified the time period for the piece, but then also gave context to the many nods which are given to him throughout the play. It also added a level of meta-theatricality, making the frame all the more complete. 

However, at the end of the play, when the play within the play is over, and Molière (Stephen Ouimette) has taken ill, that meta-theatrically comes into play again as La Thorilliere (Ben Carlson) calls out “Is there a doctor in the house?” Reality comes crashing in on the hilarity we have just witnessed. This sobering ending was totally smashed to bits at the performance I attended, where someone said back “I’m not a doctor, but I’m a dentist!” We all laughed at the spontaneity of the whole incident, and yet it’s one of the things that make theatre the beautiful art it is; no one had ever shouted back before, the cast was flabbergasted! And yet that afternoon that lone voice responded to La Thorilliere’s pleas. And who knows if it’s happened again since? These one-off experiences make the show all the more memorable.

However the expert acting in this show is what’s truly memorable! Ouimette especially was pitiful, hilarious and yet loveable; a perfect Restoration lead. He was supported by a large, impressive cast, including Brigit Wilson, Trish Lindström, Ian Lake, Luke Humphrey and Shannon Taylor. They were truly able to bring not only Molière’s story, but his whole world to life on stage. And some of the cast exhibited extraordinary tablets: from tumbling to juggling to music and dancing, the expertise of the whole cast was truly put on display, and made for a feast for the eyes.

The Masque at the end of the play has to be one of my favourite conclusions to one of Molière’s works, as Argan (Ouimette) becomes the solution to his own ailments, and we can see a clear path to happily-ever-after for the characters involved. It provides a perfect juxtaposition to the ending to the play itself as I had mentioned previously; once Argan’s problems are solved, Molière’s begin. 

One of the things that I found the most interesting was how a modem audience was able to connect so fully to this play. Often times with Restoration comedy, there are so many jokes which are couched in inuendo or timely references that they don’t play well for a modern audience. Yet because this play deals with the human body, our health and the medical system, it remains totally relatable and still hysterical for today’s theatre-goers. It actually gives the show the same kind of universally human qualities that we see in other of our most beloved plays. 

The Hupochondriac closes on the 14th, so make sure to catch this hilarious comedy!

Stratford Festival’s “The Beaux’ Stratagem”

After four days of seeing deep, moving and affecting theatre, I was delighted to be going to see George Farquhar’s The Beaux’ Stratagem on August 3rd. I studied Restoration theatre many times during my University career, so it was so exciting for me to have the opportunity to see something I’d studied but never seen before on my favourite stage.

Overall, I just felt like this play was a bundle of fun! It doesn’t totally come across on the page just how funny this play is, however once it is embodied, the audience can barely stop laughing! It was a wonderful example of a typical Restoration comedy, very funny, with just the right amount of naughtiness to it. The humour is totally transcendent, making us laugh just as hard today as it would have for Charles II’s audience. You really need to experience it for yourself, it’s totally worth it!

The sets and costumes are opulent and beautiful: a perfect match to the overflow of laughter in this play. It was amazing to watch the actors change the set from the dingy Inn to the beautiful house where Lady Bountiful and her children live. The contrast between the male, public space of the Inn (whose only female component is Cherry, whose father owns the Inn) and the female, private space (which is eventually invaded by males) of the parlour is very stark, but it accurately reflects Restoration society. I always love looking at the men’s clothes, Archer and Aimwell, as upper class men, were dressed so beautifully and of course the women’s dresses were downright gorgeous.

As usual the acting in this play did not disappoint. This play was well stocked with some of Stratford’s best actors and they were marvellous. They made me laugh, love, feel pity and happiness. The whole ensemble was wonderful, however Lucy Peacock, Colm Feore, Gordon S. Miller and Martha Henry stick out in my mind as being particularly fabulous. Evan Buluing’s French accent as Count Bellair nearly put everyone on the floor from laughing! I was honestly very impressed by everyone in this play, and it was cast so well, and really brought these characters to life in such a way that I felt so fortunate I was able to witness it.

I’m going to get into a little bit of analysis, so there might be some spoilers, therefore read on if you dare!

In and amongst this beautifully funny play, Farquhar discusses some very serious issues. The primary issue he deals with is companionate marriage. Squire and Mrs. Sullen are so called because they are unhappy in their marriage, and it comes to light later on in the play that their marriage was arranged rather than chosen. When Mrs. Sullen meets Archer, she finds her ideal man. Similarly, Dorrinda meets Aimwell, and thinks she has found her ideal man, even though she doesn’t know that he and Archer are not as well off as they would appear. These displays of true love eventually cause the Sullens to get a divorce, and Mrs. Sullen to be free to be courted by Archer. This would have been a hot topic amongst Farquhar’s audience as companionate marriage still wasn’t a widely accepted norm, however was starting to become popular. This of course comes with the notion of adultery, and the choices that Mrs. Sullen is forced to make when confronted with the opportunity to have true love. Several of her monologues talk about her sad marriage, and her desire for love, and once she meets Archer, they turn to thoughts of desire and what it would mean to leave her husband. However, she never breaks her marriage vows, and so while forced marriage is shown to be a negative thing, adultery is shown to not be the answer. It is amazing how many modern notions are coming from an 18th century play.

Then of course there are Archer and Aimwell themselves. Both of the men are not well off, but pose as a wealthy man and his valet to hopefully win themselves a wife. They’re almost like fops because they don’t have real professions and spend most of their time around women, and yet they aren’t given the same idiocy that someone like Sparkish in The Country Wife, from the same period. Yet it calls into question just how much these men are allowed to get away with and how much of a façade can they employ while still having the trust of the women they wish to woo.

If you wish to take in this fantastic piece of theatre, here’s the link for tickets: http://www.stratfordfestival.ca/OnStage/productions.aspx?id=24275&prodid=52396