Who, reading this has ever heard of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin? Well, you may know him under his stage name Molière, one of France’s most popular writers. Much of his work is often produced but one that doesn’t get seen very much is Le Médecin malgré lui or to give it the English title The Doctor in Spite of Himself. However, if you head down to the Drayton Arms, then you can not only get to see this lovely little farce but also choose whether you see it performed in English or the original French.
Sganarelle (David Furlong) is a woodcutter who likes a drink. Well let’s be honest he drinks like the proverbial fish and has pretty much sold all of his family’s possessions in his pursuit of alcohol. His wife Martine (Jacqueline Berces) has had enough and the two of them get into a massive fight which culminates with Sganarelle beating Martine. She is fed up and determined to get her own back on her husband, who has gone off to work. At that point, two servants of the lady Géronte (Yanouchka Wenger Sabbatini) who are looking for a Doctor to cure their lady’s daughter Lucinde (Anita Adam Gabay) of her mysterious illness. Seizing her chance, Martine tells the servants that her husband is a fantastic but reclusive doctor. The servants are happy to have found such an expert but Martine warns them that Sganarelle will pretend he isn’t a doctor unless they get him to admit it. Taken to Géronte’s house, Sganarelle soon discovers, with the help of Jacqueline (Fanny Dulin) – nurse to the child and wife of a not very bright servant Lucas (Matt Mella) – that Lucinde is not really ill but is pretending to be so that she can avoid marrying her mother’s chosen husband but instead can be with her own love Léandre (Leo Elso). Somehow, the fake doctor Sganarelle must resolve all of these issues and, more importantly, be reconciled with his wife, all without being found out by Géronte or anyone else.
As great one act plays go, The Doctor in Spite of Himself is up there with the finest. A lovely farce that hurtles along at quite a pace to get the story told. The story itself is not really complicated, though the interaction between the various protagonists really muddy the water at times. The translation has been done very well, in fact I was surprised how well the story translated into English. If your French is better than my schoolboy level then you can go and see the play in its original language as they are alternating performances between the two.
There was nothing I didn’t really enjoy in this play. I was highly impressed with David Furlong’s performance as Sganarelle which has to be quite a role since he is onstage for the majority of the play and has not only some wonderful monologues but also has to find a way to build a relationship with an audience that could easily see him in a negative light as a drunk, lying scheming wife beater. ‘Somehow David makes Sganarelle likeable and by the end, it just felt that he was a bit of a scamp, a sort of likeable rogue if you will. I also want to single out Leo Elso who played the role of Valère – described as Géronte’s educated servant – and Lucinde’s lover Léandre. He played both roles so well that I actually didn’t realise for quite a while he was had done so and thought the programme had missed an actor out. The rest of the cast were equally as good and contributed well to the whole story.
All in all then, The Doctor in Spite of Himself was great fun in its staging and direction and my only concern is that I felt it could have been a bit longer. At around 75 minutes, some of the characters, such as Lucas and Jacqueline, didn’t really have time to develop and felt a bit two-dimensional. But, that aside, this is a fine production of a play that while dating back to 1666, still feels fresh as a daisy that has just been washed by the spring morning dew.
Review by Terry Eastham
The Doctor In Spite of Himself, playing in both English and French as part of the Bastille Festival 2016, which returns to the Drayton Arms Theatre this summer.
Directing and starring as Sganarelle is co-founder and artistic director of Exchange Theatre David Furlong (Red Oleander, Camden People’s Theatre; The Changeling, Young Vic), alongside other co-founder and executive director Fanny Dulin (A Family Affair, The Drayton Arms; Sweeney Todd, Parkes/MacDonald Productions) as Jacqueline. They are joined by Jacqueline Berces (Zorro, Le Théâtre des Variétés) as Martine, Yanouchka Wenger Sabbatini (Don Juan Last Night, théâtre l’Alchimic) as Mme Geronte, Matt Mella (In The Dead of Night, Landor Theatre) as Lucas, Leo Elso (Dusty, Charing Cross Theatre) as Valere/Leandre and introducing Anita Adam Gabay in her first production after training at LAMDA as Lucinde.
In this classic Moliere affair, nothing is quite what it seems. Sganarelle is a drunk and beats his wife, who in return spreads the word that he is actually a brilliant doctor who can only work when he is beaten. Cue a stream of patients and beatings – and in spite of himself, it seems Sganarelle can perform miracles after all!
Running Time: 75 mins
Venue The Drayton Arms Theatre, 153 Old Brompton Rd, London SW5 0LJ