BRINGING William Golding’s The Spire to the stage for the first time is a challenge of epic proportions.

When the novel was published, Golding’s fifth book was dismissed by critics as “solemn and dull” – not the ingredients of good drama.

However, director Gareth Machin and Hollywood moviemaker Roger Spottiswoode have made sure that this premiere of Golding’s heavy-going tome is engaging and dramatic.

Much of that enjoyment springs from it being close to home, and us Salisbury dwellers can snigger at sentiments like “the spire won’t last a year”, especially as many of us passed the 404ft pinnacle on our way the theatre. Whether other audiences would appreciate The Spire in the same way is questionable, but for Salisbury it is a real treat.

It follows the burning ambition of Dean Jocelin (the excellent Mark Meadows) who wants to build a spire, like an arrow to God, from the roof of the completed cathedral.

The dream nearly destroys him and the building, and has devastating consequences on those around him, but his desire overshadows all reason.

The supporting characters suffer through Jocelin’s obsession, from failing friendships to the death of workers, a disillusioned clergy to an affair between master builder Roger Mason (Vincenzo Pellegrino) and the flame haired Goody (brightly played by Dorothea Myer-Bennett.) But despite this pain and heartbreak, Jocelin will not give up – urging his builders to go higher and higher.

Some of the more dramatic moments happen off stage – convenient maybe, but frustrating after a while.

Tom Rogers’ set is bleak but impressive with crumbling pillars, rickety rooms and the ever-rising tower.

At two-and-three-quarter hours, with two intervals, it is one of the Playhouse’s more lengthy productions but its deft direction and high intensity keeps the audience engaged.

The Spire makes you want to run outside and gawp at Salisbury Cathedral to reacquaint yourself with its innovation and majesty.

Until November 24.

Jill Harding