Reviews of 'The Remains of the Day' Musical

an adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s masterpiece

by Alex Loveless

Union Theatre


Evening Standard Review:   fourbluestars.gif (1347 bytes)

Songs for English reserve in The Remains of the Day

By Fiona Mountford


"A cursory glance at The Remains of the Day, a novel of subtlety and nuance, would suggest it is an unlikely candidate to be turned into a musical, a genre that often over-emphasises the obvious. Kazuo Ishiguro’s masterful study of quintessential English reserve in the first half of the last century, turned into a magnificent Merchant Ivory film starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson, doesn’t exactly beg to have songs inserted. Yet from such seemingly unpromising source material Alex Loveless has crafted a sophisticated piece of musical theatre.

A strong sense of magisterial Darlington Hall, home of a Nazi-sympathising lord and place of work for butler Mr Stevens (Stephen Rashbrook) and housekeeper Miss Kenton (Lucy Bradshaw) is skilfully evoked in the small playing space, and director Chris Loveless captures the milieu perfectly via maids whispering in corners. The central thrust of the narrative is the years-long non-romance between the central characters, due to the obsessively decorous Stevens putting “service” before any vestige of a personal life.

Rashbrook gives a marvellously restrained performance that hints at the unexplored depths of Stevens’s soul and he and Bradshaw, plus a top-notch ensemble, make easy work of the songs, many of which have a solemn and hymn-like feel. It’s not all gloom, though, with the frothy music hall number The End of the Pier to lighten the mood. A canny West End producer could do far worse than to tweak this fine show for a transfer."


Blanche Marvin's London Theatreviews

It may be a tiny theatre but it has a giant production in this programme. It is a play with music taken from the subtle and sensitive book that was made into the most heart rending film starring Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins.

Does such a delicate story sustain the transition…absolutely. The set is amazingly captivating using the space to recreate rooms in the stately home of Darlington Hall that are not just a box set. The cast are all hand picked in both their acting singing and dancing. The adaptation flows sustaining the mood of the times with music that is melodic in its songs yet lively enough for the dancing and jolly enough in the music hall rendition of The End of the Pier. It is all woven together in fluid strokes. The staging is inventive, abounding with whispering servants and the lovers that never come to be… Stephen Rashbrook as Stevens, Lucy Bradshaw as Miss Kenton…could not be bettered in the West End.

It is a gem…a jewel… that shines its light and lingers on. The story centres on Lord Darlington, a Nazi sympathizer who held his political meetings at Darlington Hall. The English formality and reserve as epitomised by the butler Stevens freezes him from shedding tears upon his father’s death or opening his heart to the housekeeper Mrs Kenton. His deep sense of loyalty, putting service before his personal feelings, being more a part of Darlington Hall than part of a marriage leads him into a loneliness never counted upon as the times change. Lord Darlington is forced to sell the estate and Mr Farraday, an American without English tradition, takes over leaving Stevens serving in a world he no longer knows. And yet he cannot commit himself to Mrs Kenton when the door is opened to him. It is a quiet tragedy of two misplaced lovers surrounded by the vitality of the young servants who effervesce with life. The soul of Stevens is touched by life but never lived. Hats off to this accomplished company and to the Union Theatre…Import, import and export to the West End, Lincoln Center, BAM, Kennedy Center, etc.
September 1-25/10

Review of 'The Remains of the Day' musical

by Bernie Whelan for EXTRA! EXTRA!

It was difficult, at first, to accept the idea of Kazuo Ishiguro's wonderful book as a musical. The Merchant Ivory film was as close to the book as I imagined it was possible to get, with Anthony Hopkins making the role of the quintessential butler, Stevens, very much his own among a brilliant cast. Yet the key theme of declining British hegemony, as played out in Darlington Hall at key moments just before the Second World War in 1935, looking back through the eyes of Stevens (Stephen Rashbrook), from around the time of the Suez Crisis in the 1950s, is rendered perfectly on stage in this musical production.

The complexities of the political machinations of 'gentlemen amateurs' like Lord Darlington (Alan Vicary), who seeks to forge European alliances with the Nazis, is, yes I know it's hard to believe, sung in thrilling ensembles such as 'The French' in Act I and 'Democracy' in Act II. The American challenger Mr Lewis/Mr Farraday (Reuben Kaye) becomes Stevens' master at Darlington Hall, just as the Americans take the lead as world superpower from the British after the Suez Crisis, and sings 'Divide and Rule' to the gathered European politicians, taking on the tactics which allowed Britain to remain world leader for so long.

A combination of dramatic dialogue, singing, and dancing brought the characters to life with an emotional subtlety that bewitched the audience in the Union Theatre. Miss Kenton (Lucy Bradshaw) is a fine singer, and brought real depth and intensity to the part of Stevens' thwarted housekeeper. When Stevens follows Lord Darlington's directive to dismiss the two Jewish servants in the household, Miss Kenton's argument on their behalf and their leave-taking in 'Close Your Eyes' is really moving, and beautifully sung by Gemma Salter and Katia Sartini as Sarah and Ruth.

However, the star is Stephen Rashbrook for his singing, dancing and at all times, utterly composed Stevens. The scenes between Stevens and his dying father, played by Dudley Rogers, were all the more affecting for the emotional reserve both actors conveyed so powerfully. I imagine this is no mean feat among a cast of incredibly professional and accomplished singers and dancers who filled the stage with all the verve and panache expected of any musical.

The set, designed by David Shields, marvellously conveyed the changing scenes in Darlington Hall and the Cornish seaside town where Stevens visits Miss Kenton, now Mrs Benn. The music, composed by Alex Loveless, was divine and worthy of attendance by itself. Richard Bates deserves credit for the wonderful dance and vocal arrangements. I particularly enjoyed 'The End of the Pier' which evoked a 1950’s British 'naughty but nice' nostalgia with the girls dancing and singing in tiny sailor suits.

This really was a surprise for me. I didn't expect a work of such understated quality to be rendered well in a musical but it was a true success. An all singing, all dancing Remains of the Day seemed a questionable enterprise, but I enjoyed every moment of it and left excitedly discussing new angles of a book and film I had thought it would be impossible to improve on. However, new wine in old bottles can sometimes be a very good thing.

Review of 'The Remains of the Day Musical'   fourbluestars.gif (1347 bytes)

"Expect tugging of heart strings"
by Peter Carrington for remotegoat on 05/09/10

One might be forgiven for hesitating to see a musical version of the celebrated novel The Remains of the Day but this production, like a well-kept house, handles each and every aspect skillfully and is deserving of praise.

To be successful in producing effective musical theatre many elements must come together successfully. To begin with, the Union Theatre is not a huge venue, but in portraying the vast Darlington Hall it is used well, impressively evoking the stately home's grandeur and size. This is coupled with a skillful use of lighting throughout to show the journey taken. Within the set, all cast are costumed very well in understated ways completing the image of the 1920s to 1930s.

The audience are transported via this setting to Darlington Hall, home of Lord Darlington where the tense relationship between Mr Stevens the Butler and Miss Kenton, the Housekeeper happens behind the scenes of important discussions on the economics and politics of Europe. The historical grounding (though largely fictional) is well grounded and the interesting time is handled unpretentiously by Loveless's script and lyrics.

Within this setting we find a strong cast, none shying from their songs, though some voices are stronger than others. Lucy Bradshaw plays Miss Kenton, the passionate housekeeper who initially clashes with the Butler but in her quiet movements and looks betray much more. Lucy Bradshaw also plays well against Stephen Rashbrook as Mr Stevens the butler and lead of the show. Both convey the depth of emotion in a short space of time and with all the same subtlety of the time period. Together they are both halves of the heart of the play and are what keeps the audience involved.
Christopher Bartlett as Reginald ably handles what is not an easy role, neither fully comic relief nor na´ve hero. Reuben Kaye makes a strong musical debut as Mr Lewis, a conniving American.

One of the other essentials of successful musical theatre are the Ensemble and this cast of talented and skilled actors and actresses push the roof off this production.

Finally, no musical theatre would be complete without the music and musicians themselves. Those gathered for this are superb, subtle when needed and soaring with the anthems of the show. It is therefore this skillful blend of all the essential elements that means The Remains of the day tugs at the heartstrings with such strength that one wishes this was staged in a larger space, with more people able to experience it.

Review of 'The Remains of the Day Musical'
by Helena Rampley for What’s On Stage

It’s somewhat surprising that writer and composer Alex Loveless decided to turn Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day into a musical. What’s even more surprising is that, by and large, his radical transformation of this story works… the songs are almost always well-integrated, intelligently written, and subtly performed.

A sense of distant opulence is created by David Shields’ sombre coloured set, and the small space of the Union helps capture the mood of claustrophobic suspicion and uncertainty.

Dilemmas of duty are fought by Stevens the butler and Miss Kenton the housekeeper, and the uneasy partnership between servitude and sterility is movingly portrayed by Stephen Rashbrook and Lucy Bradshaw. Never guilty of over-singing, their vocal control and contained style of singing poignantly reflect the social constraints placed upon their passion.

Although Loveless’ adaptation does not quite pack what we feel is its potential punch, it does suggest a wealth of potential.

Review of The Remains of the Day Musical
by Naima Khan for Spoonfed

An innovative, fringe musical…

There are possibly too many ways of looking at a production like The Remains of the Day by Chris Loveless at Union Theatre. This musical, based on the sombre Kazuo Ishiguro novel of the same name, will split crowds and critics, as should the best of theatre.

If you come at it from a literary angle, hell-bent on comparing it to the book, you'll lose out. The production deserves to be regarded in its own right. Sure enough, Loveless, who is making a fine name for himself on the fringe circuit, has used the novel as a springboard for a multitude of his own ideas, and they're great ideas…

The story follows Stevens, the fiercely disciplined butler of Darlington Hall. Endlessly committed to Lord Darlington, Stevens, a stupendously controlled Stephen Rashbrook, finds himself at an all-time low when his employer passes away and the estate is taken over by the American Mr Farraday (Reuben Kaye). Convinced his woes are down to a lack of staff, he plans to meet up with the former housekeeper Miss Kenton, the politely bold Lucy Bradshaw. Though the ensemble scenes in this musical are well thought-out, Loveless has created a musical that celebrates the individuality of each character, as proved by the memorable scenes between Bradshaw and Rashbrook…

Its darker parts are the best, but its more frivolous scenes highlight the limitations of Union Theatre. Though one of my favourite fringe venues in London, The Remains of the Day could go bigger and louder and still maintain that sweet darkness that pervades the text.

Go see it for a display of the many talents of this young company… their performances hold their audience, and they sure can sing.

CLASSICAL SOURCE review of ‘The Remains of the Day’ – Michael Darvell

The film version of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Booker Prize-winning novel “The Remains of the Day” was nominated for eight Academy Awards. It won a BAFTA Award for Best Direction by James Ivory. A much-loved book, a well-received film, but does it need to be made into a musical? One could ask that question about any book or play that becomes a film, but then the film industry has long-relied on popular works of literature and the theatre as a source for its bread-and-butter productions. The thinking must be that what works in one medium must work again in another and on many occasions it has been true. English dramatist John Cornford’s 1835 farce “A Day Well Spent” was re-written by Austrian playwright Johann Nestroy in 1842 which American writer Thornton Wilder then adapted in 1938 as “The Merchant of Yonkers”, but it flopped first time around. Seventeen years later Wilder wrote a new version called “The Matchmaker” for actress Ruth Gordon and it was a huge hit. Hollywood filmed it in 1958 with Shirley Booth, and Jerry Herman took it up again as the basis of his stage musical “Hello, Dolly!” for Carol Channing, and it was another massive hit. Gene Kelly directed the film version with Barbra Streisand in 1969 but it was not an immediate success because it had cost too much to make. After that Tom Stoppard took the original story for his farce “On the Razzle” which was staged at the National Theatre. So, what goes around, comes around… again and again and again.

One could hardly disapprove of all these various versions of the same story because most of them were successful on their own level. By that token then it is good to welcome a musical version of “The Remains of the Day”, perhaps because it doesn’t ruin one’s recollections of the book or the film. Adding the songs in the way that Alex Loveless has done help the story along mainly in a through-composed way that explains both the thoughts and emotions of the characters involved. It succeeds where a similar piece like Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Aspects of Love” doesn’t. The lyrics in “The Remains of the Day” are not banal but are still conversational in the way that Stephen Sondheim writes in, say, “Company”, “Assassins” or “Sweeney Todd”.

The main action of “The Remains of the Day” is set between the two World Wars, although the story is told in flashback from the 1950s as Stevens, once devoted butler to the late Lord Darlington but now with Mr Farraday, a wealthy, brash American employer, who has bought Darlington Hall. Stevens receives a letter from Miss Kenton, his former housekeeper some twenty years before at the Hall, which hints at an unhappy marriage. When Farraday tells Stevens to take a motoring holiday in his car, he decides to visit Miss Kenton (now Mrs Benn) on the pretext of re-employing her at Darlington Hall. When they worked together they kept their relationship on a purely professional level, even though they obviously both had feelings for each other, feelings that could never be expressed at the time.

The portrait of Stevens is of a man so buttoned-up emotionally and obsessed with his work that he cannot let anything else into his life. Every task must be carried out with dignity, nothing must impinge on the job at hand, the public front of propriety is all-important and there must be nothing unseemly or strange to upset the work to be done at Darlington Hall. This attitude makes him ignore what is going on around him. He unquestioningly supports Lord Darlington and refuses to even think about his employer’s support of people like Oswald Mosley and his support for anti-Semitism, considering it to be none of his business. His business is to keep Darlington Hall running smoothly. His blindness to Darlington’s politics and his refusal to accept any form of romantic approach from Miss Kenton or anybody else may make him a good employee but less of a man. Stevens’s motoring trip allows him to evaluate his life but by then it is too late. Miss Kenton has grown to love her husband after all, which leaves Stevens ultimately alone, thinking not only about the remains of the day, this day, but also about the remains of his life.

The songs, a mixture of lively music and more contemplative ballads, set the scene well and provide a suitable atmosphere for the narrative. Scored for woodwind and strings, it has a delightfully plangent quality in Rowland Lee’s arrangements. David Shields’s settings and Chris Lince’s lighting evoke the darkness of Darlington Hall, a place steeped in repression. Darlington cannot even bring himself to tell his son ‘the facts of life’ and asks Stevens, of all people, to do the job for him, but it’s the one task the butler cannot fulfil. The ambience at the Hall is one that Stevens totally ignores even to accepting unquestioningly when Darlington tells him to dismiss two of his staff who happen to be Jewish. It is not only Stevens who is devoid of feelings, even anti-Jewish ones, for he makes his whole world a place of emotional desolation.

Steven Rashbrook is excellent at creating a man with little or no soul who would rather die than experience embarrassment, who shuts people out if they are going to upset his working routine, ignoring their feelings in the process. Lucy Bradshaw as Miss Kenton tries to fight her way through the barrier that prevents Stevens from being a fallible human being. The actress gives the part a nicely honed edge and, perhaps surprisingly in the context of the plot, creates a believable relationship. A good supporting cast double-up in various roles including Alan Vicary as Lord Darlington, Christopher Bartlett as his son Reginald, and Dudley Rogers as Stevens’s father. Omar F. Okai’s choreography helps to establish the period feel of the piece and Chris Loveless’s unfussy direction lets the cast and the text get to the heart of the matter. It is in essence a charming piece, subtly and movingly played without making it at all overwrought. It is not often that new musicals are instantly successful. “The Remains of the Day” seems to be an exception that works from first word to last.


Review: The Remains of the Day, Union Theatre

“Is it foolish to wait for the day that will never come”

You have to admire the ambition currently on display at the Union Theatre. Writing a new musical is hard enough at the best of times, but when your source material is a Booker-Prize-winning novel which has already had a much loved film adaptation made, then there’s quite a challenge ahead. But that is what Alex Loveless has taken on with his adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day.

Telling the story of Stevens in post WWII England, a long-serving butler to the late Lord Darlington who is struggling to deal with his new American employer, he identifies the solution as being retrieving a former colleague from Cornwall, Miss Kenton. As he sets off on a road-trip to try and persuade her, he also goes on a journey through his memories of the inter-war period where we discover that his employer was uncomfortably sympathetic to the Nazis and that his relationship with Miss Kenton ran far far deeper than that of just butler and housekeeper.

As Stevens and Miss Kenton, Stephen Rashbrook and Lucy Bradshaw are perfectly cast. Rashbrook displays the emotional restraint of a man who knows nothing aside from a life of servitude and dealt with transmitting this through the medium of song rather well (though there were moments when the sound drowned him out). As Miss Kenton, Bradshaw however is allowed to burst free from her emotional shackles occasionally, her playful scenes teasing Stevens over his reading material were joyous and her beautiful voice filled the Union perfectly, she is just excellent throughout...  more at  There Ought To Be Clowns


Background to 'The Remains of the Day' Musical

"We talked to Ishiguro and he completely endorsed the idea," the producer added.

"Remains of the Day" is opening in a small theatre by West End standards because the recession makes it difficult to raise money for new shows, Collier said.

But he has big ambitions for the project.

"It is a work in progress. We have another two and a half or three hours of music and when we get feedback from the opening we will chop and change it and develop the show further," he said...    more at Remains of the Day Musical opens in London