'Fed up with grim, hand-wringing, one-man shows?' asks this production's flier: 'Go and see something funny.' While this production of Moliere's farce isn't laugh out loud amusing, it is certainly a refreshing antidote to bad stand-up, which is what 'grim, hand-wringing, one-man shows' connotes for me. This show has its share of bad actors, but the relaxed, friendly, slightly serious tone at the Quaker meeting house and its theatre ensured the audience was in a generous mood.
The Reluctant Doctor tells the story of a vindictive wife who, to spite her wife-beating woodcutter husband Sganarelle, convinces two men who are in desperate search of a doctor that her husband is a miracle physician. Hilarity, of course, ensues: the bumbling fool Sganarelle, believed to be a genius, is given the task of curing a young girl named Lucinde who is suffering from inexplicable dumbness. Her inability to speak, it turns out, is not a matter of conventional illness but lovesickness: forbidden by her avaricious father from marrying her love Leandre, Lucinde is feigning illness to avoid her father's proposed marriage to a wealthier suitor. In the words of Lucinde's wise nurse, 'happiness excels riches'. And, of course - with the aid of Sganarelle and the timely death of a wealthy uncle - it all ends happily ever after.
The acting isn't by any means perfect, with some bizarrely misjudged emphases and frequent over-enunciation redolent of the classroom read through. There are, however, exceptions and this, combined with some excellent directional touches, was enough to make it worth watching. The cute set - a tree and a toadstool that doubled up as a table and chair - combined with the sound of creaking branches and birdsong, proved surprisingly effective at evoking the woodland scene. A further fine directional touch takes the form of an unexpected freeze frame towards the end, which works a charm. More importantly, however, the actress playing Leandre is truly excellent - sympathetic and dignified even in a ridiculous wig and sunglasses, she compels whenever she's on stage. The moral of The Reluctant Doctor is, it emerges, forgiveness - I was willing to forgive this show its flaws for the moments that lift it.