Theatre; THE MISER; Chichester Festival Theatre

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Nicholas Broadhurst's inspired modern dress revival of The Miser at Chichester Festival Theatre pays Moliere the highest respect in not treating him with curatorial reverence. I've been hard put to muster more than a dutiful smile at the three productions of the piece I've seen previously. But this splendidly cast version recognises that, for all the play's sharp satirical insight into the skinflint mind, the comedy bounds along as a collection of quite broad routines that need exuberant reinvention and physical embellishing.

Not that there aren't some excellent verbal jokes in Ranjit Bolt's clever, agile adaptation - Harpagon's Freudian pratfall, for example, when trying to prevent his son from presenting a young woman with pearls: "They belonged to your mother of blessed money - memory." It's just that for the stone- deaf, there would be rich compensations. Indeed, for several minutes, no intelligible word is spoken, as we follow Ian Richardson's sublimely funny miser through his early morning rituals in a mansion that's an Arctic temple of paranoid cost-cutting.

Wearing a characteristically nicked Hotel George V towelling robe, he brews his coffee by painstakingly pouring the contents of his hot-water bottle into the pot. You could mistake this measure, and the cyclist who has to generate electricity holed up in a cupboard, for environmental friendliness, were it not for the superglued-on ornaments, chained-up furniture and a burglar-alarm system that would daunt Heath Robinson.

With the demeanour of a moustached, irascible colonel, Richardson plays Harpagon as a chap who knows there's a war on: the enemy, the rest of mankind; their objective, to get their hands on his money box. Everything is subordinated to the war effort, a fact that Richardson conveys with a casual, elating comic lack of consciousness about ordinary human feeling (on being told he'll survive his children and grandchildren, he mutters "O good" with the off-hand satisfaction of someone hearing of a slight rise in his shares) and the blinkered belligerence of the kind of obsessive who unconsciously attributes his own fixation to the rest of the world. "It's always money, money. It's an absolute obsession with some people."

Richardson, returning to the stage for the first time in 14 years after a distinguished career in television, gives a great performance and one that is frequently hilarious as, for example, in the sequence when - blinded by spectacles he doesn't need in an effort to appear older to a girl he's been told goes for antediluvian men - he flounders down a staircase in ancient top hat and tails (or rather tail), waving his cane about like some chaotic cross between Fred Astaire and Oedipus at Colonus.

The supreme assurance of Richardson's comic timing seems to have infected the whole of this breezily confident production which appears, like the audience, to be having itself a ball. Another familiar, though less austere, television face, Lesley Joseph, better known as Dorien in the BBC1 comedy series Birds of a Feather, plays the matchmaker Frosine, and Simon Coates, fresh from Cheek by Jowl's controversial all-male production of As You Like It, plays Valere.

n Continues to 16 September. Booking: 01243 784437

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