The play has two preoccupations: English politics on the eve of the Second World War, the remains of an old era, and those last remaining, aristocratic households with live-in servants.
Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day has two preoccupations: English politics on the eve of the Second World War, the remains of an old era, and those last remaining, aristocratic households which employed live-in servants.
Deftly adapted for the stage by Barney Norris, we see a nation in decline, if not morally bankrupt.
A butler, Stevens, played impeccably by Stephen Boxer, believes it is his greater duty to serve his master, than to be with his dying father at the old man's bedside.
Stevens says he can never be truly happy unless his lord, (Lord Darlington, not God) has had his ultimate life's wish fulfilled, only then can he be completely satisfied - by giving complete satisfaction.
Stevens is a man starched and folded, immaculately tucked in like the traditional hospital bed. Manners don't just make the man - they are the man. Apparently, he is impervious to the warmth and affection of Miss Kenton the housekeeper played so engagingly by Niamh Cusack.
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We can only suspect the true regard he has for her. She can only suspect it too, so after giving him every chance, she must seek her happiness elsewhere.
Meanwhile Lord Darlington and his chums are taking steps to appease Hitler, partly because it is only 20 years since the wanton slaughter of the First World War, partly because they know how wars change society. In their view, they end what Oscar Wilde would have called "Society". The last one brought down most of the stately homes of England. That was the beginning of their having to be mortgaged or opened to the paying public.
Though this production opens slowly, there are some great performances here, many of the cast having dual roles.
Stephen Critchlow is magnificent as the humble countryman, Morgan and the bombastic Sir David. Miles Richardson is fun as the aristocratic Darlington and the jolly Dr Carlisle and Sadie Shimmin is a delight as the pub landlady, Mrs Taylor and the undiplomatic diplomat Mme Dupont.
Based on the book written by someone who came to England (from Japan) at the age of five, this piece is a fine example of how the onlooker sees most of the game.
Coming to Britain from somewhere else, you can see the place for what it is. Servants got the remains of their lives. This is a thoughtful play which at the end of the day remains in the mind.
The Remains of the Day is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, May 18.