THEATRE Royal artistic director Damian Cruden decided to counter the recession blues with an upsurge in comedy this autumn.

No production will bring more of a smile than Moliere’s French farce La Malade Imaginaire, adapted by Roger McGough for the Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse in a co-production with English Touring Theatre, in the wake of his successful version of Tartuffe last year.

The Hypochondriac looks most at home on the Theatre Royal stage, or rather sat inside the Theatre Royal stage as a theatre within a theatre, curtains and all. Designer Mike Britton provides the obligatory multitude of doors that are open at the start of the play, only to be promptly shut and used brilliantly for myriad purposes, from the hypochondriac Argan’s oft-visited loo and storage cupboard for his enema jars to the constant traffic of more conventional usage as a doorway.

From a choreographed opening that instantly establishes the immaculately timed movements of Gemma Bodinetz’s fast-whirring production, the audience is brought back down to basics by the foghorn blast of Argan (the wonderfully crabby Clive Francis) going about his obsessive ablutions.

“Je regrette…rien,” says a constipated Argan, looking forlornly into his empty pot in the first of McGough’s witty applications of basic French (in much the same way that Alan Ayckbourn has used it so effectively in his new work at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, My Wonderful Day). A deju vu joke is so good that he repeats it.

McGough, the Liverpool Poet and former member of The Scaffold, has written a lithe and lively but not Liverpudlian adaptation: quick of satirical wit, fleet of foot and blessed with rhythmical couplets with plenty of room for surprise.

His characterisation is well conceived too, especially in the differing speech patterns of the impatient ingénue, Argan’s daughter Angelique (Lucinda Raikes), all thrilling brief bursts, and that of her unwanted fiancé, Thomas (Toby Dantzic), a terminally dull and overbearingly loquacious doctor.

McGough’s humour serves his characters first and foremost, but he shows a lightness of touch in harking back to his days as a folk musician by having Argan mock modern music, and who could stop him indulging in an in-joke at the finale with a reference to Lily The Pink’s medicinal compound. And why not; his generous-spirited fun-and-games frolic finds The Hypochondriac in rollicking rude health.

The Hypochondriac, English Touring Theatre/Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse, at York Theatre Royal, until October 31, 7.30pm and 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: 01904 623568.