Emotional tension is let down by the script in The Remains of the Day on Northampton stage

Niamh Cusack as Kenton and Stephen Boxer as Stevens. Picture: Iona Firouzabadi
Niamh Cusack as Kenton and Stephen Boxer as Stevens. Picture: Iona Firouzabadi

Steve Mills reviews The Remains of the Day at the Royal & Derngate, Northampton, based on Nobel Prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro’s masterpiece

A battle between gentility and emotion rages in this period drama currently being staged at the Royal & Derngate in Northampton.

The Remains of the Day depicts the morally-compromised truth behind grand houses, dinner engagements and the English countryside. As life changes during and after the Second World War, we get a glimpse of a man’s half lived life, only he realises it too late.

This is a show which does take a long time to get started, with its initial argument between a housekeeper and a butler over the placement of a china ornament giving the whole feel of a Downton Abbey-style row.

The pace, particularly in the first half, is really slow and with different time periods in play, it takes a little bit of time to get used to.

I don’t wish to sound like I’m criticising the acting - on the contrary, Stephen Boxer as the repressed but dutiful butler Stevens is rather excellent in playing what is on the page - but his lack of reaction to some of the more emotional moments in the show can be a little disengaging to a modern audience. While I understand it was right for the period, and no criticism at all of Boxer who does a marvellous job, I suspect the script is the problem.

Niamh Cusack adds a bit more heart to proceedings as housekeeper Miss Kenton with plenty of steel alongside her gentle nature.

The acting of the show is pretty good throughout, the production and the set design looks superb but most of the problems with this show for me stem from the script, which perhaps needed a little more tightening up and a bit more pace.

This is the sort of adaptation that wouldn’t look out of place during a Sunday night on ITV. And from the rapturous applause that greeted the final curtain, there will be an audience that will enjoy this gentle drama that eventually packs a real emotional punch.

* The Remains of the Day runs until Saturday March 16. Call 01604 624811 or visit www.royalandderngate.co.uk to book.