THE late American playwright Clifford Odets is enjoying quite a revival with two major London productions of his works in less than six months.

Following The Country Girl starring Martin Shaw and Jenny Seagrove in the West End, the National Theatre is currently staging his lesser known work Rocket To the Moon.

Such recognition of Odets work is a clear celebration of old-fashioned, quality writing in which the focus is on characterisation rather than action, without the need to rely on special effects.

Rocket to the Moon is a subtle comedy in which tensions slowly play out between the characters. Set in just one room - a dental surgery - in Depression-era New York, the drama centres around a struggling dentist, Ben Stark, who has nothing much else to do except fall for his pretty young secretary Cleo. It’s a scenario which hits home in today’s economic climate as people struggle to find satisfaction in life.

Different characters in the play embody different experiences, from the man who can't say no, to the man who feels a failure, to the woman who craves love, to the man who seeks pleasure in womanising, to the woman who fears losing what she has.

Despite star billing, Keeley Hawes, making her stage debut, is unchallenged in her role as the suspicious dentist's wife, Belle. She spends more time off stage than on, and her performance lacks any great variety of tone.

Belle’s coldness and controlling behaviour pushes her husband further towards what she dreads - that he will have an affair with his secretary. The dentist's business is failing as his overly generous nature means his employees and clients take advantage, even receiving treatment and services without a fee.

Joseph Millson as wet-fish Ben gives an amusing performance, convincing the audience he has a genuine affection for Cleo. But he knows he cannot ultimately give her what she wants, nor does he have the courage to leave his wife.

But it is Jessica Raine as Cleo, successfully morphing from the cutsie, naive girl who accepts any male attention thrown at her, to a more discerning young woman of integrity at the end of the play, whose delightful performance is the real breath of fresh air.

Even though this isn't a great play quite in the same league as other American classics of its era, director Angus Jackson’s gently-paced production unashamedly sets out to make the best of it all without complication. But for anyone more used to fast-paced, television style dramas high on action, this one is more likely to feel like having teeth pulled.