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Beautiful and understated: Remains of the Day provides audiences with a treat

PUBLISHED: 18:59 27 March 2019

The Remains of the Day with Stephen Boxer and Niamh Cusack is playing at Bury Theatre Royal Photo: Iona Firouzabadi

The Remains of the Day with Stephen Boxer and Niamh Cusack is playing at Bury Theatre Royal Photo: Iona Firouzabadi

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Review: The Remains of the Day, adapted by Barney Norris, Out of Joint, Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, until Saturday March 30

The Remains of the Day, adapted for the stage, is playing at Bury Theatre Royal Photo: Iona FirouzabadiThe Remains of the Day, adapted for the stage, is playing at Bury Theatre Royal Photo: Iona Firouzabadi

So beautifully staged and so beautifully played, Barney Norris’s skilful adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day is superb, and the intimate Theatre Royal the perfect place to enjoy its understated drama.

For in this story of unspoken love and unswerving loyalty, you benefit from being close to the action as so much is said between the lines, with a glance or an expression or a tense physicality.

A charged atmosphere is created with subtle but effective projections on elegant moving walls, unobtrusive music filters in almost unnoticed and scenery changes via beautifully choreographed servants going about their work in a grand house.

It is a masterclass in subtlety but the emotional response no less powerful.

Stephen Boxer is wonderfully repressed as Mr Stevens, the dutiful butler wholly dedicated to both his work and his employer at Darlington Hall. Rarely off stage, he moves seamlessly between the different timelines - often both represented simultaneously - and allows just enough emotion through to draw the audience in, keeping a suitably stiff upper lip while inviting empathy and compassion.

His skilful performance means that, without fanfare or declaration, the butler’s quiet admiration and growing fondness for housekeeper, Miss Kenton, is clear. Niamh Cusack provides warmth and heart in this role, portraying her character as both entirely proper but, at the same time, sweetly teasing and caring as she tries to draw him out of his emotional shell.

This frustrated romance is set against the backdrop of a grand house, gentlemen politics and the threat of World War Two, with the talented cast of eight telling a complex narrative with ease.

It sounds dry, I know, but there is so much here to charm and touch the soul, not to mention raise a smile - a romantically-constipated butler trying to explain the birds and bees to a young man on the verge of marriage for example.

It isn’t the film and doesn’t deserve any comparison as theatre is a very different artform. This is the play, and the tale of love, duty and regret is told with such dignity I believe even Mr Stevens would approve.

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