I’ve never managed to catch Far from the Madding Crowd before so I was really looking forward to seeing how Birmingham Royal Ballet director David Bintley had managed to turn Thomas Hardy’s wordy, sprawling 19th century novel into a satisfying ballet. The answer is – brilliantly.

Unobtrusively he distils the essence of a complex plot focused on romantic love in its many guises into an Ashtonian epic harking back to a pre-industrial era complete with Sir Fred’s favourite ribbon dances and peasant celebrations in a sort of dark La Fille Mal Gardee. This is a romance, but one set in no rural idyll. Here humanity struggles against the eternal violence of nature and among its inhabitants lurk cruelty, suicide and murder.

First plaudits must go to company stalwart Elisha Willis in the demanding role of Bathsheba Everdene, the independent woman in a Victorian man’s world who inherits a farm and sets out to run it herself to the amazement of the rural population.

Naturally she has suitors, and this is where the dark truly comes in. Matthew Lawrence’s powerful stage presence throbs in his every restrained gesture as the rich, buttoned-up landowner Farmer Boldwood who wants Bathsheba for his submissive bride. Ian Mackay by contrast blazes as the mercurial but unreliable Sergeant Troy who dazzles but brings her near to ruin. He almost but not quite upstaged Joseph Caley as the humble shepherd Gabriel Oak who allows her to move on into a charmingly-managed happy ending.

Add in some wonderfully clever set changes, charming period costumes and superb lighting. Then take Paul Reade’s cinematic score which conjures richly varied moods from violent drama to the softest feelings of love all played with power and subtlety by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia and you have a huge, swirling hit. As one ingenious set piece follows another the tone varies satisfyingly from surging village life to solitary lovers gazing at the moon. Overall, a full-blown evening of beauty and exciting drama.

BRB’s next offering is Summer Celebration running from June 27 to 30. It’s one of those signature triple bills they do so well, starting with The Grand Tour set on a thirties transatlantic liner and featuring the music of Noel Coward. Next up is the world premiere of BRB Director David Bintley’s Olympic-themed Faster followed by one of the Royal Ballet’s signature pieces Frederick Ashton’s The Dream based on a Shakespeare’s magical comedy about the events of a summer night.

For tickets phone 0844 338 5000.