“I do not want my decision on Europe to be decided by the average man.”
Newsnight? Question Time? The House of Commons? Nope. The stage of the Bristol Old Vic this week.
As that line was uttered in this production of Nobel Prize-winner Kazuo Ishiguro’s masterpiece, chuckles echoed around the theatre as the parallels with the current goings on around Brexit were obvious.
Set in 1930s and 1950s England, the play, loved by millions as the BAFTA-winning Merchant Ivory film, tells the story of a love affair that wasn’t to be.
Stevens is the loyal Butler in Darlington Hall in Oxfordshire who is sent on holiday to the West Country by his boss to meet track down the former housekeeper, Miss Kenton. After stopping in a village pub because his car has broken down, he reminisces about life in Darlington Hall 20 years before.
This is a story of repressed emotion and regret. Personifying the English stiff upper lip the extreme, Stevens remains dedicated to his boss despite his efforts to appease the Nazis and avoid the Second World War.
The flash breaks are swift and constant with Stevens switching from his 50s self to his 30s being and back again very quickly. I have to admit that for the first few minutes I struggled to follow what was going on but once I’d got it, it was an enjoyable and intriguing watch.
Stephen Boxer is outstanding as the butler. He hardly leaves the stage and he’s so good that you just want to yell out loudly, ‘tell her that you love her Stevens!’.
In a particularly poignant scene, Stevens tells his dying father “I’m so glad you’re feeling better” as he chooses duty over family.
Niamh Cussack is great as Miss Kenton with her mischevious digs at Stevens’ authority, and the ensemble supports well too.
The stylish and simple set fits the theme perfectly and there’s some clever use of video and sound with pouring rain that is super realistic.
Panels move along the stage to communicate the grandeur of Darlington Hall, the village pub and the Stevens’ final heartbreaking meeting with Kenton in a cafe where his love remains unrequited.
The Remains of the Day is at Bristol Old Vic until 25 May.
Images by Iona Firouzabadi.