Liverpool poet Roger McGough has written plays before, but “never,” he modestly admits, with “as much success” as his adaptations of Molière. “It’s the combination you need, Molière and me” he jovially explains. After going to see his rave-reviewed latest adaption, The Hypochondriac, at the Theatre Royal, Performance Editor Olivia Wilson spoke to him about becoming ‘McGoughière’.
“I remember doing Molière at university, but I didn’t particularly enjoy it then. I came to do this adaptation because the director of the Liverpool playhouse, Gemma Bodinetz, wanted to do something ‘European’ to celebrate Liverpool being the City of Culture, and thought I could bridge the gap. I was very nervous about taking on such a classic, but naive enough to think I might be able to do it. I wanted to be true to the play so I didn’t update it, I left it set within the period and the story is the same. It is in verse, even though the original wasn’t, and it is colloquial, but I didn’t try to make it Scouse or anything, although inevitably those sort of things do come in to it.
I don’t speak French at all, so I started by reading a direct, prose translation of the play, word for word what it says in English, and I looked at some other adaptations. But eventually you get a sense of the storyline and you just have to put your notes away and begin: The door opens, Argan walks through with pen and paper in hand and begins to speak…
I was pretty closely involved with the play up until the final performance; I worked well with the cast, they’re all very good, experienced actors. Clive James is a wonderful comic actor and a writer himself, so of course he – and others – had suggestions. Some changes were kept, others were left out: there is a very fine line between farce and pantomime, one which you don’t want to cross.”
Luckily, it certainly didn’t. Even though, in truth, toilet humour is not my comedy genre of choice; farting and faeces gags are usually more likely to have me gagging to be sick than gagging with laughter; I was very impressed with the performance of Clive James as hypochondriac Argan, and found myself contributing to my row of seats shaking with the power of the audience’s laughter. McGough’s was a sensitive and effective modern day version of the play and he is well deserving of praise.