BRISTOL OLD VIC – 25 May 2019 AND TOUR
THE REMAINS OF THE DAY
2 hours 10 minutes – 1 interval
Bristol Old Vic Box Office – 0117 987 7877
REVIEW – CORMAC RICHARDS – 22 MAY 2019
Kazuo Ishiguro’s 1989 Booker Prize winning novel, ‘The Remains of the Day’ created a real buzz when it was first published – I was a bookseller at the time – but it was most definitely not for everyone. The slow burning tale of a grand house butler relating his own story whilst on a trip to the West Country is one of great simplicity and one of great depth at one and the same time. The 1993 Merchant Ivory film adaptation was warmly received and garnered nominations and awards aplenty – quite an achievement when many considered a cinematic treatment of the book very tricky to pull off. A stage version would seem an even greater challenge.
As Stevens, the butler, looks back on his life in the closing moments of the play, he reflects that maybe he chose the wrong life. His commitment to his fascist-sympathiser of an employer through his own unerring sense of duty ultimately clouds his judgment of better choices and a happier existence. His relationship with the housekeeper Miss Kenton is the pivot on which, many years after they first work together, his realisation of a lost life turns into a reality.
Barney Norris has delicately taken this story and, intricately interwoven the 1930s past and the 1950s present; the action flitting back and forth in time, possibly to the confusion of audience members unaware of the story, but it presented no problems for this viewer. The script is lucid and faithful; the lines are as fluid from the mouths of the actors as they are from the pages of the book. It is an exquisitely realised piece of work.
Lily Arnold’s set comprises large mirrored walls which glide from side to side as scenes change, providing a glimpse of the grandeur of Darlington Hall where most of the action takes place. As the mirrors morph into windows we also get to glimpse beyond the walls. It is a simple and stunningly effective, augmented by a superb lighting design by Mark Howland whose skills transform the action into a series of paintings. Rain pours outside the windows – so, effectively that a near neighbour quizzed me as to whether it was real – Andrzej Goulding would appear to be responsible. So, some scenes have no beginning or end, but dissolve into the next, others require movement of furniture carried out in the most beautifully choreographed manner to the strains of Sophie Cotton’s excellent music. It is all a visual treat.
The many layered story is never less than fascinating from a social, historical and political perspective – when one character says that he doesn’t want the future of the country to be decided by the ordinary man, there is an audible intake of breath from the Brexit-weary audience. The story is pertinent in so many ways.
Stephen Boxer’s Stevens is so deeply repressed that even he doesn’t realise it – this is a wonderful performance – solid, steadfast, but immensely vulnerable and finally deeply sad. This is restrained acting at its best and when the emotions strike they are harder to bear as a result. The sexual tension that is built between Stevens and Miss Kenton, never fully surfaces, but bubbles under the proceedings, only fizzling out at the end when both realise they missed their opportunities and it is now too late. Niamh Cusack, as Miss Kenton, offers the polar opposite of Stevens – strong-willed, non-conformist and independent, but finally giving in to a life of unhappiness – it is a perfectly judged performance.
The supporting cast are all top-notch; Miles Richardson as the disgraced and disappointed Lord Darlington; Pip Donaghy as Stevens’ father and the major influence on his life; Edward Franklin, the young journalist making a stand against his Father’s politics; Stephen Critchlow as the vile politician Sir David of the radical views. With excellent support from Patrick Toomey and Sadie Shimmin, this is an ensemble which is in perfect working order.
Director Christopher Haydon has been brave – there is nothing fancy about this production – no radical casting or special gimmicks – this is a very good play which has been well produced and provided an excellent company of actors with the chance to act their socks off. He has crafted the play as delicately as the best watchmaker would the most exquisite chromometer. When the current trend in theatre seems to call for flashiness, accessibility and innovation, it is an enormous relief to come upon a production which allows a writer’s words to be well spoken and a great story to be told.
‘The Remains of the Day’ is a prime example of proper theatre – story-telling and acting of the highest order.
STEVENS – STEPHEN BOXER
MISS KENTON – NIAMH CUSACK
MORGAN/SIR DAVID – STEPHEN CRITCHLOW
STEVENS SENIOR – PIP DONAGHY
REGINALD – EDWARD FRANKLIN
LORD DARLINGTON/DR CARLISLE – MILES RICHARDSON
LEWIS – PATRICK TOOMEY
MRS TAYLOR/MADAME DUPONT – SADIE SHIMMIN
ADAPTED BY BARNEY NORRIS
DIRECTOR – CHRISTOPHER HAYDON
DESIGNER – LILY ARNOLD
LIGHTING DESIGN – MARK HOWLAND
SOUND DESIGN – ELENA PENA
COMPOSER – SOPHIE COTTON
VIDEO DESIGNER – ANDRZEJ GOULDING
A CO-PRODUCTION BY OUT OF JOINT AND ROYAL & DERNGATE NORTHAMPTON IN ASSCOCIATION WITH OXFORD PLAYHOUSE