The Remains of the Day, Review | Royal & Derngate, Northampton

The latest production in the current Made In Northampton season, The Remains of the Day, officially opened at Royal & Derngate on Wednesday 27 February.

Each time I take my seat for a production under the ‘Made in Northampton’ banner, I feel confident that an enjoyable evening lies ahead. As I took my seat for The Remains of the Day, and took in the sight of an ornate wall, beautifully made to look and sound as if caught in a rainstorm, I felt that my confidence would not be misplaced this time, especially as the play itself began to place time elsewhere.

Acting as a pivot at the very centre of a clock-face was the butler, Stevens, portrayed perfectly by Steven Boxer. The very essence of a buttoned-up English servant was perfectly captured, and provided the perfect lynchpin for the journey through Stevens’ memories and regrets. The stiffest of stiff upper lips only served to bring some of the play’s more emotional scenes into stark contrast, to great effect. Great credit must also go to Niamh Cusak, whose portrayal of Miss Kenton was faultless.

Whilst Stevens and Miss Kenton remained fixed points in character, if not time, the other cast members did a fantastic job of portraying a wide range of characters. Notably, there were a number of moments where Stephen Critchlow, Miles Richardson and Sadie Shimmin appeared to effortlessly slide from one character to another, whilst still on stage. It was a joy to behold, and a credit to all of the cast that none of the multi-role-ing jarred or was anything but totally believable.

Stephen Boxer, Stephen Critchlow, Miles Richardson, Pip Donaghy – photo Iona Firouzabadi

Once the method of ‘time travel’ had been firmly established, it was intensely pleasing to witness the production grow in confidence and become bolder and more adventurous when switching between time and character, that reached its peak just before the interval. It was a little disappointing then, when the second half of the play, which in its own right was performed, staged and written beautifully, lacked much of the dynamism so perfectly realised in the first. From that perspective the two halves felt a little disjointed.

The set consisted of large, movable flats which were adorned with subtle projections that gave them a tenuous grip on opacity. These provided wonderful depth and texture, and were the source of many magical moments where scenes and characters would suddenly appear behind a previously solid wall. The beautifully lit line of servants’ bells across the top of stage were another lovely touch. Less successful were the mirrors at the rear of the stage, which served little purpose, and struck me as gilding the lily. An otherwise exquisite set design would have been stronger had they been absent.

Stephen Boxer, Niamh Cusack – photo by Iona Firouzabadi

The lighting and sound were critical in establishing the flashback scenes, and Elena Penã’s soundscape was a particular highlight in this regard. As the show flipped from one time period to another, the sound design was incredibly effective in establishing the separate worlds, especially during the plays initial scenes. Unfortunately the projection system failed early in the second half, however it was a testament to the high quality of the lighting and sound, that very little of the atmosphere was lost as a result.

The Remains of the Day is a sumptuous and wonderfully realised production, that despite a few minor niggles was wonderfully conceived and realised. Very much worth an evening of your own time.

The Remains of the Day plays in Northampton until Sat 16 March, before heading on a national tour. For more information visit the Royal & Derngate website.

Performance: Wed 27 Feb 2019, Royal Theatre, Northampton