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Tartuffe – National Theatre (Lyttelton)

In one corner of the opulent set for this new version of Tartuffe stands a giant golden replica of Michelangelo’s David draped in a pink boa. At one point the statue is turned 180 degrees so that David’s magnificent gilded backside faces the audience in what I suspect is the theatrical equivalent of a cheeky wink.

This is just one of the many comic delights scattered throughout John Donnelly’s modern reworking of Moliere’s 17th century French farce.

Subtitled “The Imposter”, the story takes place in a mansion in contemporary Highgate where Orgon (Kevin Doyle) is having a personal crisis over his wealthy lifestyle and has invited into his home the charismatic outsider Tartuffe (Denis O’Hare). “It’s not an obsession, it’s an awakening,” Orgon tells his concerned family, who brand the strangely-dressed interloper “a zealot”.

This being a farce, it seems appropriate that when he does appear on stage – almost an hour into the play – Tartuffe isn’t wearing any trousers, just some spotty pants and a t-shirt. It’s a great pay-off after a long build up. O’Hare’s slippery character has beads and a top-knot and speaks with a European accent that’s hard to pin down. It’s a magnetic performance, which begins even before the play starts with O’Hare flinging daffodils to audience members while they are still silencing their phones.

The whole cast is uniformly excellent. As Orgon, Doyle at times seems to be channelling Basil Fawlty. Olivia Williams, as his wife Elmire, is superb in the slapstick seduction scene where she attempts to expose Tartuffe’s lechery, as is Geoffrey Lumb as the ridiculous street poet Valere (“You know I don’t do ones that rhyme!”)

Photo by Manuel Harlan

I also enjoyed Enyi Okoronkwo and Kitty Archer as Orgon’s privileged offspring Damis and Mariane, while Kathy Kiera Clarke has some of the best lines as housekeeper Dorine. “Killing yourself is no laughing matter,” she deadpans. “There are downsides.”

Under Blanche McIntyre’s direction, this modern take on Moliere’s classic moves at a great pace and is the funniest play I’ve seen in a long time, all of which goes to make the serious message that Tartuffe delivers in his closing address to the audience all the more powerful.

Tartuffe is at the National Theatre in London until 30 April

The American Clock – The Old Vic

Set in the post-crash 1930s America, it’s not hard to see why this lesser-known Arthur Miller play from 1980 will resonate with a 21st Century audience still feeling the effects of the 2008 financial crisis.

Subtitled “A Vaudeville”, Rachel Chavkin’s production uses period songs and superb choreography to guide us through the personal and political upheavals of The Great Depression.

The story follows the fortunes of the Baum family, New Yorkers who lose their wealth in the 1929 crash, with Miller channelling his own childhood experiences through the character of Lee.

Clarke Peters is superb as the play’s omniscient narrator and “investment genius” Arthur Robertson, a man who foresaw the crash. There’s a touching early scene in which he advises a shoeshine boy to sell his stocks before it’s too late. The financial meltdown itself is effectively conveyed through a montage of crackly radio clips.

The American Clock is for the most part a sonic and visual delight with some striking set pieces. The on-stage musicians, led by Jim Henson, add lashings of atmosphere. I particularly enjoyed Ewan Wardrop’s tap dance routine as Ted Quinn, the chairman of General Electric. Francesca Mills is also memorable in multiple roles (seven, according to the cast list).

Ewan Wardrop and the cast of The American Clock at The Old Vic. Photos by Manuel Harlan
Photo by Manuel Harlan

But the use of three sets of actors to play the same members of the Baum family – often on stage simultaneously – felt muddled and distracting in a tale which already has so many characters.

The whole experience lasts three hours. There were moments in the less energetic second half where I wanted the hands of the clock to move faster.

This is the first of two Miller productions at the Old Vic this year. The more famous one, All My Sons, arrives in April.

The American Clock is at The Old Vic until 30 March

The Girl on the Train – Richmond Theatre

Given its subject matter, it seems appropriate that I saw this production in Richmond, the affluent London borough which sits on one of the main commuter lines into Waterloo.

Paula Hawkins’ 2015 bestselling novel has already been made into a film starring Emily Blunt, and now it’s been adapted for the stage with EastEnders star Samantha Womack as the story’s unreliable narrator Rachel Watson.

Familiar as the plot and characters may be to fans of the book and film, Anthony Banks’ production deftly delivers new surprises and slick visuals. The scenes of Rachel staring out from the window of a moving train are particularly well done.

Womack is utterly convincing as the alcoholic and emotionally damaged Rachel, whom we first encounter throwing up into a pizza box in her messy flat.

The story sees Rachel become obsessively involved in the lives of her ex-husband and his new wife, and their neighbour Scott Hipwell (Corrie’s Oliver Farnworth), whose wife Megan (Kirsty Oswald) has disappeared.

Photo: Manuel Harlan

I particular enjoyed the sparky relationship that develops between Rachel and the policeman assigned to the case, DI Gaskill (John Dougall – excellent).

“I was telling you the truth,” Rachel tells him. “I just didn’t realise I was lying.”

With its multiple sets, and atmospheric design, this is thrilling ride that beats the morning commute any day of the week.

At Richmond Theatre until 16 February and touring through to July