Sunday, 21 April 2019

Pair’s unspoken love is a wound time cannot heal

Pair’s unspoken love is a wound time cannot heal

The Remains of the Day | Oxford Playhouse | Tuesday, April 16

WHAT’S worse than unrequited love? How about requited but unacknowledged love — two people aching for each other but never admitting it.

It’s the kind of wound which deepens rather than heals over time and is at the heart of this adaptation of The Remains of the Day — the Out of Joint theatre company’s take on Kazuo Ishiguro’s wonderful look at the British class system of the Thirties.

It’s an upstairs-downstairs story, but Downton Abbey it isn’t.

The first thing to say is that it’s a triumph for the two leads, Niamh Cusack as Miss Kenton the housekeeper and especially Steven Boxer as Stevens the butler. Boxer never leaves the stage and is central to every scene.

His is a completely convincing portrayal of a man of limited ambition who rules his staff with strict adherence to the rules. What the aristocratic owner says must be must therefore be.

Affairs of the heart? Not on his watch — too many drinks to pour and too much work to do. Then along comes Cusack’s more relaxed Kenton, effectively his deputy and a woman of principles and warmth.

She challenges his code and loses — even when he knows it’s wrong, it’s still the rule and must be obeyed.

You’re probably familiar with the film featuring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. These stage performances are different, particularly Boxer’s butler who chooses not to use Hopkins’s sternness but maintains a strictness.

Ishiguro’s story has been adapted by Barney Norris, who uses the flashback technique on what was a straight linear story. It’s certainly interesting and keeps the pace up. But I wonder if such a good tale needs to be so overdressed?

No matter, the final 20 minutes are enough to make your eyes run dry and maybe even your heart explode.

The play is also a co-production in association with the Royal & Derngate in Northampton and it’s good to see Oxford’s dynamic theatre punching its weight on the national stage.

Until Saturday.

Mike Rowbottom

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