AS the defining work of Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited has been reinvented before to satiate the public's appetite for it.

In 1981, it was brought to the screen as a Granada TV serialisation featuring Jeremy Irons. In 2008 there was a film adaptation of the book and the novel was also dramatised on BBC Radio 4 Extra.

It is perhaps surprising, then, that it has taken until the 50th anniversary of Waugh's death for his magnum opus to become a large-scale theatre production.

Damian Cruden, the director behind a new stage version adapted by Tony Award-nominee writer Bryony Lavery, says it seems "an obvious choice".

Cruden puts the lack of stage time to date down to other directors being mindful of taking the wrong approach: "Perhaps it has been a case of worrying that, with such a loved novel, people will be disappointed by the approach taken. So these well-loved pieces require careful handling."

In this respect Cruden can put to use his experience with works such as Pygmalion, The Railway Children and To Kill A Mockingbird.

He says, "Adaptation requires things to go - one can never get everything in.

"The job is to compress the content into particular moments that carry the bigger meaning. Finding the balance between showing and telling is key. To show what happens is far stronger than just telling the story."

The narrative follows Charles Ryder, who confronts memories of his first youthful encounter with Brideshead Castle and its assortment of eccentric inhabitants.

In this new reimagining of the novel, the past and the present blur as Charles recalls those heady days at Brideshead and Lord and Lady Marchmain, along with their offspring, Julia, Cordelia, Bridey and Sebastian Flyte. Concluding towards the end of the Second World War, Cruden agrees the era still has a lure.

He says, "The interwar period is fascinating because it was not a time of peace but a pause in the war.

"It is particularly important for us because it was the end of Empire and the slow death of a way of life. The first 50 years of the 20th century have forged the next 100 years if not more."

With the time that has passed since its 1945 publication, Cruden feels his play looks at Brideshead from a new perspective.

He says, "I think this version sees the novel through the prism of our world now.

"It focuses much more on the discussion around faith and less about homosexuality. Our production is an abstraction, as are all stage plays, so we are much more engaged with the notion of suggestion and imagination in the form of the piece.

"The play is only in part about class. The 'us' and 'them' is as much about the old and the new as it is about the haves and the have-nots."

The play is presented by English Touring Theatre and York Theatre Royal, where Cruden is currently incumbent.

It was York's relationship with Castle Howard as well as a love of the book that prompted Cruden to forge ahead.

"It’s a great read," he says, "The characters are well drawn, the dialogue is sharp and honed.

"The book stays with you long after reading and this, coupled with visits to Castle Howard to walk my dog, drew me into thinking about its suitability to adapt it for the stage."

Cruden says the role Irons played in the 1981 adaptation did not factor into the acting of Brian Ferguson and his depiction of Charles.

Cruden says, "We haven’t talked about anyone else’s interpretation of the role. This has very much been Brian’s own creation; his choices were made with great care and he gives a very detailed and fine performance.

"For me he captures Charles as a man lost in life, searching for love and uncertain of himself.

"It’s very moving because in a way he loses faith in people and opts for a God, which feels like a defeat in the context of his journey."

Evening performances 7.45pm, Thursday and Saturday matinees 2.30pm, tickets , call 0844 871 7650