Modern take on old topics

By Sun Shuangjie Source:Global Times Published: 2016-5-10 18:18:01

French director Michel Didym asks classic questions through Molière’s last masterpiece The Imaginary Invalid

French theater actor and director Michel Didym says that since he was discharged from the hospital five years ago, he hasn't seen a doctor again. He attributes this to Molière, the most celebrated French classical playwright, who changed his attitude toward the body and life.

To be precise, it was Molière's last work, The Imaginary Invalid, that forced the change. The script was brought to him by a friend during his 6-month-long hospitalization, when he was diagnosed with a severe disease just after he was appointed the head of the Théâtre de la manufacture at the Centre Dramatique National in Nancy, in the Lorraine area of the Grand Est.

Revolving around an old bourgeois Argan, a severe hypochondriac who thus wants to marry his daughter Angélique to a doctor, the three-act play enchanted Didym because of its focus on everlasting topics in the human world, such as the body, money and love.

That's when he decided to stage the play. Didym's production won acclaim last year for its refined cast and delightful interpretation of the classic script.

It has now been performed more than 100 times across France, Germany and Belgium.

From Friday to Sunday, Shanghai Majestic Theatre will host the production as part of the Croisements Festival.

Masterpiece of French theater

"It was not the first time [reading the play], but I didn't understand when I read it for the first time. I imagine Molière wrote that when he was sick, so what he put in his text is concerned with me a lot; I understand at the end the meaning of Molière more, and I appreciate the modernity of the play," Didym told the Global Times.

In Didym's eyes, the play is significant not only because it's Molière's last work, but also because it's a masterpiece that concentrates the essence of Molière's comedic talents and also holds multiple layers.

Besides the slapstick caused by Argan, whose name derives from French word "argent," meaning money, the play also touches upon the phenomenon of forced marriage and women's rights, and offers in its last act pretty serious philosophical thinking by inheriting Michel de Montaigne's critiques toward not only the medical system but also French society.

"What touches me most in the play is the situation of women, really," Didym said. He said that the three major female characters - Argan's maid and servant, Toinette; his daughter Angélique; and his second wife, Béline - represent two different choices of women, those lured by freedom and love, and those by money.

He was also impressed by the Stoicist perpectives from Argan's brother Béralde, who is influenced by Montaigne. Stoicism believes that everything is rooted in nature and thus people can heal themselves by abiding the rule of nature.

"When I have a headache, I drink water, I keep quiet; when I'm coughing, I go to a hot place and sleep. I do what I have to do," Didym said. "I'm not saying that we don't need medicine, but less if possible."

(From top) Scenes from The Imaginary Invalid Photos: Courtesy of the event organizer

Wisdom in language

Didym said he will highlight the most touching parts for him through acting style, stage design and music, making it a modern interpretation of a classic play.

But the original script will be retained 100 percent in Didym's production, because he regards Molière a master of French language.

In Molière's texts, he finds elegance, rhythm and references to classical stories; Didym said modern people have much to learn from Molière in his implicit way of communication, which was used to address radical topics despite the severe censorship at that time.

It is the first time that Didym has worked on a classic; before he mostly focused on contemporary work, but with Molière, he said people should reread the classics because the real problems of the human world - such as power, desire, money - have never changed.

And these classical works and even ancient Greek stories have a radical point of view toward these issues, "and that's what we need; we need radical story."

The cast for the play is also remarkably excellent. Argan is played by André Marcon, a veteran film actor who has been nominated for a César Award this year for best supporting actor.

The play will also be delivered in its original form of a comedy-ballet, a typical French genre that features music and dance performance in the interludes of a play.

Date: Friday to Sunday, 7:30 pm

Venue: Majestic Theatre


Address: 66 Jiangning Road


Tickets: 100 yuan to 380 yuan

Call 6217-3311 for details

Posted in: Metro Shanghai, Theater, Culture

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