There’s only so much Netflix you can binge and Line of Duty you can devour before you start to think, ‘it’s time to get out’. Recently, we haven’t had the luxury of going to the theatre. However, the College House Play has marked a cautious, bemasked and socially-distanced step towards pre-pandemic freedom. Finally, the shackles of Zoom appeared to be loosening, and College certainly restarted Eton’s dramatic life with a guffaw-inducing bang.
The Hypochondriac, adapted by Richard Bean, was the last play written by French playwright, Molière, was directed by Angus Graham-Campbell. It was intended as a thinly veiled attack on the medical profession of the time, which was stuck in its ways and unwilling to embrace the scientific advances of the time. The haughty, doddery, periwigged Dr Diafoirerhoea, played superbly by Sacha Murray-Threipland (EJNR), seemed to perfectly embody all that was wrong with the Hippocratic trade.
The play charts the life of – you guessed it – a hypochondriac. The protagonist, Argan (played brilliantly by Orlando Oliver KS) is a merchant with permanent man-flu (“keep your friends close, and your enemas closer”) and an awful lot of money. One can’t help but feel sympathy for the wheelchair-bound salesman. His fear of death meant that he was easy pickings for his money-mad doctor, Dr Purgon, and his gold-digging wife, Beline.
Doctors, although useless, were expensive. Argan, however, determined that if he married off his daughter, Angelique, to the trainee physician Thomas Diafoirerhoea, he might get mates rates. Sadly Angelique, played by Alexander Hill (JMG), was in love with another, a handsome, blonde-locked apprentice called Cleante. Distraught at her father’s suggestion, Angelique refused, after which Argan threatened to ship her off to a nunnery.
Beline, Argan’s second wife who had been married to seven rich men before him, was after the money, as per usual. If Angelique married, then Beline would inherit nothing. Snapping at her chance, Beline tried to orchestrate a fling between the two star-crossed lovers. When caught in the act, Argan would surely have to send his daughter to the convent?
She almost got away with it. But Argan is brought to his senses by his brother, played by Inigo Baden-Powell (PAH), and his maid Toinette (Charlie Heath KS). After a neat ploy, Beline was banished and Angelique was allowed to marry her Romeo, and they lived happily ever after.
In the original, Molière himself played Argan. In the fourth performance, he collapsed and died later that evening. We saw nothing quite so dramatic at the College house play, but cast, crew and audience were thrilled to be in the Farrer Theatre once more, seeing the best that Eton drama has to offer.