KAZUO Ishiguro’s Booker prizewinning novel The Remains of the Day, and the subsequent film, are favourites with readers and cinema goers, so I was probably in the minority of the Salisbury audience, seeing the story (adapted by Salisbury playwright and author Barney Norris for Out of Joint) for the first time.
It is the story of Stevens, the butler at Darlington House in Oxfordshire. Following tightly in the footsteps of his revered father, his life has been dedicated to the perfect service of his late employer, Lord Darlington. Any personal needs, preferences or desires have been totally suppressed.
Told by his new employer that he should enjoy the last part of his life, and loaned the Daimler to explore Cornwall, he visits a former colleague, Miss Kenton, now Mrs Benn, in the vain hope she will return to Oxford and resume her position.
This beautifully observed study of repression, discipline and regret has been subtly and imaginatively brought to the stage in Christopher Haydon’s production, designed by Lily Arnold and performed by eight actors, all but two in multiple roles sometimes instantly transformed before our eyes.
At its centre, Stephen Boxer’s Stevens is a man for whom dignity is all, and he stands on it whenever possible.
The movement of the “set”, floor to ceiling windows more often than not fascinatingly showing what appears to be real rain, allows real time, flashback and glimpsed memory to kaleidoscope on the stage. Tiny moments of gentle flirting, a revelation of a romantic novel, strange third-person addresses, layer themselves into a picture of a man who has no option but to accept the total failure of a life he believed to have been lived perfectly.
Stevens’ devotion to the good but totally wrong-headed Lord Darlington, leading him into inevitable conflict with Miss Kenton, is painfully played out, as is her physical reticence. Delicately played by Niamh Cusack, tiny nuances of fun are quickly avoided, and as much as the audience might hope for a happy ending, they know it can never be.
Miles Richardson (son of Sir Ian) brings a humanity and deep conviction to Lord Darlington, combining entitled arrogance with diffident insecurity to a man with all the right intentions but all the wrong instincts.
It is beautifully done by all the cast, and well worth a visit to Salisbury from now until 11th May. The production also comes to Bristol Old Vic from 21st to 25th May.
Photographs by Iona Firouzabadi