"The Imaginary Invalid” by Molière
Directed by: Thodoris Ampazis
Venue: Lazaristes Monastery - Sokratis Karantinos Stage
Opening: 10 March 2023
Duration: 110 min (including interval)
Α few words about the play
Argan is suffering. His health is in tatters and the doctors are trying out every treatment known to science to rid him of his malaise. But is the patient a real patient? Are the doctors real doctors and—one has to ask—is medicine a real science? In his famous comedy, Molière questions the motives and intentions of both patient and doctors, commenting on the underlying psychological conditions discernible behind the stock comic characters. As a result, his protagonists are revealed in all their prosaic humanity: small, scared, selfish and weak. Deeper motives and agendas will be peeled away to reveal human relationships in all their truth and viciousness.
“The Imaginary Invalid” was premiered in 1673. Already sick and disillusioned with medical science, Molière rejects it completely in his final work. His health would deteriorate to the extent that he would die having managed to play the role of Argan just four times.
This is the fourth time the National Theatre of Northern Greece has staged the final comedy by the master of the French classical stage. Argan the fearful hypochondriac will confront anew his phobias, his egoism, and the need to control his life — a sweet life lived out among creature comforts but under a shadow: for no authority can guarantee that there will be a tomorrow.
My father was a doctor. A paediatrician. One of those “idealists” who enter the profession to honour it. His priority was always caring for, protecting and treating his patients. I spend endless hours in hospitals playing with surgical masks, pressure gauges, tongue depressors and stethoscopes as I waited for my father to finish his rounds. There was always a cornucopia of pharmaceuticals in our home, and from an early age we learned how to administer them properly.
The world of the hypochondriac Argan could not be more different today: Medicines and medical instruments of every kind, nurses toing and froing everywhere, attending to treatments and medication, specialists of every type doing their daily rounds, examining and prescribing, are the canvas on which Molière's multi-dimensional comedy unfolds.
When Molière wrote “The Imaginary Invalid”, he was already seriously ill with pulmonary tuberculosis and had suffered a decade of futile treatments. So it makes sense that he should mock the practices of the doctors of his era and denounce their exploitation of patients’ fears and ignorance. But it is remarkably brave how he undermined himself by creating a protagonist who is a hypochondriac—and by playing the lead himself, and how much fun he has turning his very real fears of impending death into entertainment through his expertly orchestrated and unexpectedly comic scenes. Fate would punish him for his insolence, and Molière would collapse during the third performance of the play and die a few hours later. The theatre couldn’t “protect” him.
In this production, the direction strives to mine the author’s painful reality without betraying his playful and humorous setting. After all, laugh as hard as you can and you’re crying. We sought to honour the memory of the creative genius (he died 350 years ago, on 17 February 1673) by exploring the ambiguity inherent in comic situations and steering clear of facile semiotics and naive jokes. Our goal was to find a performance idiom that served the classical structure of the original while simultaneously updating the engine of Molière’s comedy with the means available to contemporary performance. Musical thinking, which always defines my productions, proved a valuable tool here, too; Molière’s dramatic constructions have a musical basis in any case, and only through music can one fully understand the manner and aim of his staged compositions.
My valued colleague and friend Nikos Kypourgos undertook to relieve me of the burden of composing the music for the performance (I have been composing the music for my performances for twenty-five years), and thus it was that a director-composer and a composer came to embark together on a daring creative journey. By composing and recomposing notes, sounds and stage gestures we created a colourful musical theatre result that I believe achieves the goals we set ourselves. The scenery and costumes by my long-term collaborator Eleni Manolopoulou and the always on-point lighting of Alekos Anastasiou completed our offering in the best possible way. New collaborations which became friendships (Evi Sarmi - assistant to the director, Ilektra Kartanou - movement) supported and strengthened our working process. But the greatest contribution to the end result was made by the production’s superb cast of actors and musicians, who stuck with the long rehearsal process with unparalleled dedication and retained their enthusiasm undimmed throughout.
I would like to thank the NTNG’s artistic director, Asteris Peltekis, and the head of its artistic programming, Christos Sougaris, for inviting us and supporting us. I hope that our production will contribute to their efforts to get the theatre back into full swing.
Translated by: Ioannis Polemis, Directed by: Thodoris Ampazis, Sets-Costumes: Eleni Manolopoulou, Music: Nikos Kypourgos, Μovement: Ilektra Kartanou, Lighting: Alekos Anastasiou, Assistant to the director: Evi Sarmi, Assistant to the set-costume designer: Emily Koukoutsaki, Production coordinator: Eva Koumandraki, Make up artist: Manto Kamara
Cast: Asterios Peltekis (Argan), Grigoris Papadopoulos (Argan – second cast), Tzortzina Daliani (Toinette), Fiona Georgiadi (Angélique), Polyxeni Spyropoulou (Béline), Vasilis Papadopoulos (Cléante), Peris Michailidis (Mr. Diafoirus), Dimitris Diakosavvas (Thomas Diafoirus), Thanos Kontogiorgis (Béralde), Antonis Antonakos (Mr. de Bonnefoi / Mr. Fleurant), Nikos Kapelios (Mr. Purgon), Glykeria Psarrou (Louison)
Nurses’ Chorus: Stavroula Arampatzoglou, Natassa Daliaka, Zoi Efthymiou, Ilektra Kartanou, Christina Konstantinidou, Evi Koutalianou, Eleni Mischopoulou, Vivi Mitsitska, Chrysa Zafeiriadou
Musicians on stage: Iason Bletsas (piano), Androniki Donoukara (violin), Vasiliki Rousomani (cello), Marianthi Themeli (trumpet)
Photos under that long black cloud