Belgrade Theatre artistic director Hamish Glen talks to Terry Grimley about his new production of a Moliere classic...
Long-term aspirations for the Belgrade Theatre are having to wait while its £11 million redevelopment, including a brandnew 250-seater second theatre, is underway.
But while touring shows have tended to dominate the autumn, there's a taste of things to come in artistic director Hamish Glen's one production of the season, which has its official opening tonight. His interesting choice is Moliere's The Hypochondriac - a knockabout comedy that is perhaps better known by name than for the frequency with which it is staged.
"I love Moliere and it seemed that he wasn't greatly done here in England," explains the former Dundee Rep director.
"So I thought it would be interesting to take him on as part of a classical European repertoire. I suppose my hope is that the show will be able to generate a new interest in Moliere and what he has to offer. It seemed an interesting idea in trying to build audiences for our work.
"It's accessible, very robust, and it happens to be my favourite. Moliere took stock characters out of the Commedia dell'Arte and gave them psychology. This is a very well crafted comedy and a brilliant portrait of a man who is so obsessed with his health that he is prepared to go to the extreme of marrying off his daughter to someone completely inappropriate just because he is a doctor."
Did the reference to Moliere not being performed in England imply that you were more likely to see his plays in Scotland?
"He's had quite a lot of exposure in Scotland," Glen confirms. "If there's any particular reason for it I think perhaps it's because in Scotland there's more of a tradition of not having a fourth wall, with ceildihs and events like that. Moliere breaks out of the fourth wall all the time and plays a lot of gags that are selfconsciously theatrical."
David Hargreaves, an actor with numerous RSC and National Theatre credits as well as regular role in TV cop show Mersey Beat, plays the title role, and for the first time Glen has worked with a casting director to cast the show. What kind of actors do you need for Moliere?
"Certainly you need actors who are comfortable with very 'high' performance. You are looking for natural comics and pretty technical actors, because these routines and exchanges are very technical. A lot of it depends on where you're looking, and when.
"Each performer is in some way performing their lines and there's another story underneath them. That element of the real character peeping out - it's pretty technical, how all that works. There's a very strict rhythm and if you don't adhere to it the balloon bursts."
Meanwhile Glen, who left Dundee and the role of chairman of the Scottish Theatre Federation three years ago with a mission to raise theatrical aspirations in Coventry, is happy with progress so far.
"It takes time to build people's confidence in the quality of the work, for people to think they can come to whatever the Belgrade puts on. We're not helped by closure perods but Cat on a Hot Tin Roof came close to meeting its box office target and that's a three-hour drama."
Once the new theatre is up and running Glen hopes to celebrate by paying tribute to the Belgrade's history. One distinguished graduate he is already talking to about a possible return is Trevor Nunn, who made his directing debut at the Belgrade.
"I'm in the middle of conversations with him and I'm hoping there will be a mixture of interesting things," he says.
"There are a lot of ideas being considered but I'm really going to get down to that when I've opened The Hypochondriac."
* The Hypochonriac is at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry until November 19 (Box office: 024 7655 3055).