Wednesday, March 06, 2019

'The Remains of the Day' by Kazuo Ishiguro, adapted by Barney Norris

6 March 2019

On Tuesday we were at the Royal Theatre in Northampton to see a new dramatisation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel ‘The Remains of the Day’ - a Royal & Derngate joint production with Out of Joint, in association with Oxford Playhouse. Stephen Boxer gave a brilliant performance as Stevens, a constant presence, never leaving the stage. He perfectly maintained the butler’s stiff-upper-lip stoicism – the mask that never drops – whilst also managing to convey the simmering volcano of emotions that can never be expressed. Niamh Cusack was great as Miss Kenton, the housekeeper, determined to show she can match Stevens’ attention to detail but achingly frustrated by her inability to break through his over-formality. Adaptor Barney Norris finds a way of telling the story that is faithful to the book (and James Ivory’s 1993 film) but is distinctly theatrical, with Stevens’ post-war visit to the West Country sharing the stage with his memories of the pre-war Darlington House. It is a tribute to Christopher Haydon’s direction and Stephen Boxer’s performance that Stevens switches seamlessly between conversations with characters in the two time frames while the distinction is always perfectly clear to the audience. Lily Arnold’s wonderful set simply and effectively evokes the grand but decaying Darlington Hall, with incredibly realistic projected rain streaming down the windows and an enormous mirror at the back of the stage revealing unguarded reflections of characters trying to remain in the background. ‘The Remains of the Day’ examines the mid-twentieth century shifts in politics, class, gender and national identity – showing the refusal to acknowledge the end of an era. It’s an incredibly powerful, subtle and sad story and this stage version captures all its nuances brilliantly: one of the best things we have seen in the theatre for ages.

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