“It’s an odd job, making decent people laugh”, Molière once wrote. Odd or not he undeniably had the knack, reducing the very aristocrats he mercilessly took aim at to tears of laughter, writes MARION SAUVEBOIS.

His MO was simple enough: he craftily concealed his searing social criticism under a thick veneer of slapstick, ribald gags and cross-purpose dialogue. Crucially, he kept his writing to the point and always current. And it all worked a treat.

The playwright flouted the rules, his actors broke the fourth wall, haranguing spectators, fearlessly exposing their questionable mores, vices and double-standards. Now that’s a tough act to follow.

Doing Molière’s works justice these days takes far more than blindingly following the original text or mindlessly aping his most berserk quiproquos without pausing to ponder what the blooming heck he meant by all this nonsense.

This, the brilliant masterminds behind this latest (very loose) ‘adaptation’ of The Miser, Sean Foley and Phil Porter, perfectly understand. Their update of the classic farce complete with modern slang, a volley of 21st century references and strafe of digs at the likes of money-lenders Wonga, captures the spirit of the play, keeping it relevant without ever tampering with the essence of its unhinged plot.

Fanatical about protecting his wealth, the paranoid Harpagon (played by Griff Rhys Jones) suspects everyone of trying to filch his fortune, and will go to any length to protect it. A matchmaker motivated only by money, he sets his sights on wealthy spouses for his son Cléante and daughter Élise so his riches are safe from their grubby hands. Meanwhile, he chooses the very young, but woefully poor, Mariane for himself. But there are some complications. Mariane has already pledged her undying love to Cléante. As for Élise, she is determined to marry her father’s impoverished servant Valère (Matthew Horne).

From the offing, Harpagon’s plans are set to go terribly awry...

Griff Rhys Jones flawlessly bridges Moliere’s sycophantic world and our own as close-fisted Harpagon, whose obsession with his ‘sous’ is all-consuming. He imbues the spendthrift’s famous soliloquy, after the theft of his beloved strongbox, with furious comic energy.

The rest of the cast deliver an equally jovial and demented performance.

Their individual affectations - from Harpagon’s Stertonian roar and Mariane’s overdone plumminess, to Cléante’s unfortunate lisp and Élise’s ungainly speech impediment (she is incapable of pronouncing ‘r’s) are a master stroke and add a fresh dimension to the production.

Lee Mack is a force to be reckoned with as Jack of all trades, no pun intended, Maître Jacques, who, courtesy of Harpagon’s furious penny-pinching is forced to juggle the roles of cook, coachman, sommelier, hangman and plain old handyman.

A comedian at heart, he is right at home as the shrewd underling. The manic scene in which he speaks in turn as coachman, sommelier and cook, feverishly swapping hats to reflect his new persona is a tour de force. He nails Moliere’s cheekiness, never hesitating to push the envelope, riff off the audience and hijack scenes, turning the play into his own one-man show.

The set with its broken beams, crumbling plaster and tatty furnishings has the right air of dilapidated grandeur.

This is Molière at his best: exuberant to the extreme, impertinent, achingly funny and bang up to date.

The Miser runs at the Theatre Royal Bath until Saturday.