Last week, the Journal led with the story of the funding dispute over next year’s Salisbury Pride event, with Conservative Party Councillor Mary Douglas rejecting the Area Board motion on the grounds of the LGBTQ+ community being ‘misguided by a powerful ideology’, adding that ‘I do not want to be a part of promoting this.’

This week, with impeccable timing, Salisbury Playhouse is showing the adaptation of Sarah Waters’ bestselling novel, The Night Watch. Sarah Waters is a remarkable novelist through and through: many years ago, I worked for her publisher and I remember well the in-house excitement generated by her early novels, Tipping the Velvet and Affinity. Hers was a potential that swiftly bore fruit with her blockbuster quartet of novels, Fingersmith, The Night Watch, The Little Strangers and The Paying Guests, which garnered three Booker Prize shortlistings and three Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlistings between them.

But unlike some authors who end up being feted for literary prizes, Sarah Waters is a writer blessed with that magical storytelling touch. She has the knack for bringing history to life and turning complex tales into something effortlessly page-turning. It is partly down to these innate narrative skills that her work has repeatedly been adapted for screen and stage: four of her novels have been adapted for TV, two for the theatre and one for the big screen.

The Night Watch is, at its heart, a Second World War love story. It begins after the war, in 1947, with the central characters readjusting to the post-war world and also the fallout from how their personal lives have played out. Theirs are the sort of war stories that slip between the cracks of the more traditional histories: those whose war was spent in prison, others in the thrall of illicit liaisons. Sarah Waters’ narrative plays the smart trick of telling their stories backward, pulling the reader back in time to first 1944 and then 1941. The play starts with the aftermath of their relationships and end with their beginnings.

This adaptation does an excellent job of capturing the essence of Waters’ novel: it is slickly put together, with atmospheric stage-setting and compelling performances. If anything – and this is not normally a criticism I make of the theatre – the whole felt a little on the short side. It’s not an easy thing to distil a novel down and it’s inevitable that cuts have to be made to get there. I remember once going to see Anthony Minghella talk about the making of The English Patient, and how the first cut of the film was getting on for eight hours in length. Here, there is so much depth and nuance in Waters’ original work that I felt a slightly longer telling would probably have served the novel better.

What does seem incontrovertible, however, is how the world has moved on since Andrew Davies’ 2002 TV adaptation of Waters’ debut novel, Tipping the Velvet. There’s an excellent essay in the programme by Mark Fisher, which charts how stage and screen has portrayed lesbian relationships over the years: what once was seen as controversial and provocative now rightly feels everyday and accepted.

Interviewed by the Irish Times in 2014, Waters noted a similar journey in fiction. Gay and lesbian fiction was for many years the preserve of small, specialist presses. She remembered the publication of Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion by Penguin as being ‘an amazing moment … now it’s not at all remarkable to see a lesbian novel published by a mainstream publisher. That’s a fabulous thing, and it has changed in twenty years or less.’