THE fourth novel that John Meade Falkner wrote, he left on a train. As a writer myself, it’s the sort of story that gives me the heebeegeebees – the turn of the twentieth century equivalent of failing to back up that long worked-on manuscript. Thankfully, Falkner kept tighter hold of his second novel – rather than ending up in lost luggage, Moonfleet was the book that made his name as an author.

First published in 1898, Moonfleet is a swashbuckling tale of smuggling and pirate legends. A review from the Spectator at the time compared it to Treasure Island, and Falkner fits in that pantheon of early adventure novelists such as Stevenson, Rider Haggard and Buchan. The novel has been adapted over the years in a variety of ways – a Fritz Lang film adaptation in the 1950s, a Ray Winstone miniseries in 2013, even a 2010 Chris de Burgh album based around the book. Now, for the first time, it is being turned into a musical, debuting at Salisbury Playhouse next week.

In between rehearsals, I caught up with writer and director Gareth Machin, who along with composer Russell Hepplethwaite is the creative talent crafting the songs and scripts out of the novel. Speaking to Gareth, it’s clearly been a labour of love. The production has been three years in the making, with the project fitting neatly into the Playhouse’s artistic remit for celebrating the stories and writers of the south west. Falkner was born in Manningford Bruce and went to school in Dorchester and Weymouth; the novel itself is set along the Dorset coast. A combination of that and what Gareth described as ‘the size of the ambition of the storytelling’ made it ripe for an adaptation.

The musical is a theatrical form that sometimes feels as though it ebbs and flows in popularity. Moonfleet launches when the tide is high: on the stage, Hamilton has changed perceptions of what musicals can be about; on the screen, the ongoing success of The Greatest Showman has created a new generation of fans. Certainly, there’s none of the familiar stereotypes of tapdancing numbers here – though Gareth did admit to a possible bit of ‘stomping’ at one point.

Moonfleet is a big budget production in Playhouse terms and is the largest show the theatre is putting on this year, bar the pantomime. For a show that is running for barely three weeks, that feels a lot of time and effort: there are no plans to tour this or take it elsewhere. But as Gareth says, that’s what theatre should be about: making a show for the moment, that’s there and then it’s gone.

Moonfleet is at Salisbury Playhouse from April 19 to May 5.