Tuesday, 21 September 2010

'The Remains of the Day' - The Musical?

I have to be honest, the prospect of going to watch a musical version of Kazuo Ishiguro's excellent story of repressed emotion and thwarted ambition in the context of class structure and loyalty with Nazi sympathies during the war, was not an item on my wish list, but as my son's friend (Chris Bartlett as 'Reginald') was part of this new venture I wanted to support him. And I am so glad that I did.

'The Remains of the Day' has been re-imagined for the London stage by Alex Loveless, and defies all pre-misgivings one may have. The words are immaculate and full of wit and pathos, doing full justice to the source material. Directed sensitively by Chris Loveless and performed with tenderness, sincerity and understatement by an extremely talented cast, this is a show which demands a wider audience. I cannot recommend this production highly enough, and I am not alone - even Kazuo Ishiguro is supporting the show, recommending it despite disliking London musicals, as he explained on Radio 4's 'Today' programme:

"I'm not a big fan of West End musicals. They are not really my cup of tea, but the musical form can be used to tell all kinds of stories". He continued saying that he "always thought it would work as a musical," and that he even thought about the possibility of staging it, but was put off by the fact many people saw the idea as "a bit of a joke."

The novel is about "repressed emotion" and "thwarted ambition", not themes normally associated with musicals, but he believes the format enables the characters to express their underlying emotions. And having watched the show myself, I can attest to this wholeheartedly.

So what of the singing and dancing? As unbelievable as it may sound, both were woven beautifully into the story and enhanced the production. Omar K. Okai, just like Alex Loveless, is an incredible talent as he managed to create musical numbers that not only made you feel were vital to the story, but also help set the period, deliver real pathos, and painfully highlight the characters' complex relationships.

Stephen Rashbrook as Stevens
Lucy Bradshaw as Miss Kenton
The musical is performed in a small intimate theatre that eshews the artificial glitz and glamour normally associated with London musicals, and quickly draws the audience into a personal exploration of the lives of the characters. The combination of the words, songs and dancing bring the characters to life with such sincerity and subtlety, it's difficult to see how the story could not be told with the musical form.

But music, book and lyrics are not the only things which raise this production to excellence. Like any production, the show climbs or falls on the backs of its performers, and this show is no exception. The material as written and directed, needed a cast of rare excellence to make the venture true for the audience, and these actors delivered. They brought a depth and intensity to their roles which elevated the production into something that everyone must experience. No wonder then that it made the Standard's Critic's Choice.

In particular, I should mention the two lead performances of  Stephen Rashbrooke as 'Mr Stevens' and Lucy Bradshaw as 'Miss Kenton'. A beautifully sensitive and understated performance from both drove the narrative well, faithfully recreating the tone of the novel. In particular, Stephen Rashbrooke epitomised at all times the character of 'Mr Stevens' even when singing and dancing - a truly magnificent feat. And the scenes between him and his dying father (played by Dudley Rogers) had an incredible poignant and emotional intensity, all the more affecting for the emotional reserve both actors conveyed so powerfully.

And what of my son's friend Chris's performance? Again, an excellent depiction of what is not an easy character to convey: neither fully comic relief, nor naive hero. In all, a strong cast supporting a strong production. But if you're still unsure about the concept of 'Remains of the Day' as a musical, read the many rave reviews (some of which are below) before trying to get tickets before it closes. Be warned though, it's nearly fully sold out.


The Remains of the Day

Alex Loveless' musical adaptation

based on the novel


by Kazuo Ishiguro

directed by Chris Loveless
    Kazuo Ishiguro's Booker Prize-winning novel The Remains of the Day will premiere as a stage musical at the Union Theatre, Southwark
Wed 1st - Sat 25th September 2010
Tues - Sat at 7:30pm.
Sat & Sun Matinees at 2:30pm

Tickets: £15.50 / £12.50
The Union Theatre
204 Union Street, London, SE1 0LX
Box Office: 020 7261 9876. www.uniontheatre.biz

'I must admit the idea of it being a musical was at first a rather challenging one. But as Sondheim has proved, it is possible to combine searching drama with music to tremendous effect, so I thought, why not let these guys run with it?  
I listened to Alex Loveless play some musical ideas on a piano and that convinced me it could work.
Adapting this story as a musical, I could see, might have the advantage of highlighting its comedic and surreal aspects. It's an adventurous approach and I'm keen to support it.'
- Kazuo Ishiguro, The Stage, 28-May-2009, p 3
The show will be produced by Simon James Collier in association with Fallen Angel Theatre Company and Ben David Productions.