Mark Simpson’s stage version of Thomas Hardy’s story of a strong-willed girl and the three very different men who woo her gets off to a bit of a disjointed start, for all the effectiveness of Maurice Rubens multi-location, dual-level set. It doesn’t really catch dramatic fire until the second half, which is considerably shorter than the first act.

A lot depends on the actress playing Bathsheba Everdene. Imogen Slaughter has the looks and fire for the part, but for me lacked that crucial element of innocent seductiveness combined with frailty which makes the character so memorable. Both Andrew Bone as the shepherd Gabriel Oak and Mark Jackson as Sergeant Troy are effective; Bone contrives to make Oak’s innate goodness natural and Jackson has the right air of callous charm.

Not all the dialogue on the first night came over as clearly as it should. Regional accents can strew pitfalls before players. Rosanna Miles is Liddy, Bathsheba’s maid and poor Fanny, the girl Troy never married, is affecting in Victoria Cobb’s sketch of her. Old Joseph Poorgrass is given a nicely rounded dimension by Terry Molloy but Paul Hergerty makes Boldwood into a too much of a villain and somehow misses the inherent tragedy of an intelligent man crumpled by an emotion which he never expected to feel.