It is believed that financial pressures may have contributed to the untimely death of Johannes Vermeer, and this inherent contradiction in the artist’s status — as both genius and, essentially, employee — is central to the narrative of Tracy Chevalier’s Girl With a Pearl Earring.

In demonstrating that artists in previous ages were often viewed as little more than commodities by their sponsors, the brush-strokes of David Joss Buckley’s stage adaptation are perhaps a little broad — “Beauty: that is all that survives,” opines Vermeer; “He paints, I buy, you eat,” barks his patron, Van Ruijven — but not irredeemably so.

Vermeer is toiling over routine commissions until Griet, “the wide-eyed one”, arrives to serve in the house. Aside from her good looks and good nature, Griet has a fine eye for colour and composition (her own father was a tile-painter) and she is soon inspanned as Vermeer’s assistant, model and muse, to the benefit of his work but the predictable distress of his mother-in-law, wife and daughter.

Adrian Dunbar’s Vermeer is a generous, humane man (despite being surrounded by harpies) innocently captivated and genuinely bemused by Griet’s beauty. Van Ruijven (Niall Buggy, pictured right) meanwhile, has a more earthy interest in her — “the child and the woman, the kitten and the cat". A clash is inevitable.

Notwithstanding a rather formulaic selection of characters (pragmatic granny, spiteful daughter and so on), this story of the tensions between the real and artistic realms more than holds its own. Peter Mumford’s lighting and colouring — even of the dark parts of the neatly economical tripartite stage — is spot on, encouraging at least partial recollection of long-forgotten Vermeers. Since you don’t see a single painting throughout the show (one concession, perhaps, to the novel’s original evocations: I haven’t read it), this is important.

My thesp date complained that the semi-narrative monologues were clunky and ruinous to the subtleties of the novel; but I don’t see how else a couple of hundred pages (of pensive description) could have been compressed into two hours of theatre. I found Buckley’s adaptation admirably concise — just as well, because there’s zero leg-room, even in the expensive seats.

Over-enunciation by several female cast-members — perhaps a result of first night nerves — didn’t sit at all well with the more-or-less vernacular script. But Kimberley Nixon (as Griet)’s gentle Welshness helped temper the prevailing RP, as well as being a nice change from the am-servant- must-sound-Cockney school of drama.

One real clanger, though — Vermeer/Dunbar was busy waxing lyrical about the view through his camera obscura, without noticing that his dark-room cloak was covering the lens (and thereby giving a whole new meaning to ‘camera obscura’). Alas, no-one thought to bail him out as he declaimed: “sometimes you need to learn when things are hidden.” Yoink.

Theatre Royal, Haymarket. Until November 1. Tickets: £17.50-£45, tel. 0845 481 1870.