STEPHEN Boxer and Niamh Cusack lead the cast in The Remains Of The Day, Kazuo Ishiguro’s story of memory, regret and undeclared love, re-imagined for the stage for the first time on tour at York Theatre Royal from Tuesday.

Novelist and playwright Barney Norris has created the stage version for Out Of Joint and the Royal & Derngate Northampton, working in collaboration with Ishiguro.

In a story with two timelines, 1930 and 1950, Boxer plays the central character of Stevens, the proud, reserved, dutiful butler, to Lord Darlington at Darlington Hall, where Cusack’s Kenton is the funny, forthright housekeeper. England, meanwhile, stands on a precipice as Fascism boils in Europe.

In 1950, Stevens travels to find an old friend, remembering choices made and not made, seeking one last chance of happiness.

Gradually we discover the shocking, morally compromised truth behind the manicured gardens and grand receptions of an English stately home.

“A lot of things attracted me,” says writer Barney Norris. “I read the novel as a teenager and very much enjoyed it, and I loved Peter Vaughan’s performance in the film, which I think is a deeply valuable portrayal of the restraint and taciturnity of a generation who went through a great deal.”

Barney’s strongest motivations for taking up the invitation to do the adaptation were personal. “This story intersects with my life in several places where I was interested in spending time. My father’s mother’s father, for example, used to be chauffeur for the gentleman farmer he worked for and was allowed to borrow his Daimler when he went away,” he says.

“My mother’s mother’s parents were in service together, he was a sort of groundskeeper and she was a maid – all in the same period as this story. So what really excited me about the project was the chance to spend time thinking of them, imagining their lives, imagining the world they knew that has now disappeared.”

York Press:

Making a point: Stephen Boxer as the butler in The Remains Of The Day

Kazuo Ishiguro has been very supportive, says Barney: “He’s been at pains to encourage me to tell the story for myself, which is the most important thing when adapting an existing story, and he’s been very open and pragmatic about the practical elements of the story, the way it works and could work on the stage.”

How much responsibility does Barney feel to the original novel? “I’m keenly aware that the book – and the film – matters to a lot of people, not least because it mattered very much to me,” he says.

“Fidelity to the spirit of the original work is central to the exercise of adaptation, I think, although the way I’ve been faithful to the source looks very different from the way the film did it, because theatre is a different medium where feeling is expressed in different ways from a book or a movie.

“However, there are complexities here that have taken a lot of thinking about. Firstly, there’s the danger of redundancy – the play must be unlike the book or the film, or it shouldn’t exist, so it’s important to look for a new structure that can express the underlying drama. And it’s important to remember that the people who loved the book or the film already have those images in their head when they enter the theatre. There’s no need to restate them to keep those people happy. The only job is telling the story in a way that only theatre can.”

Analysing the significance and resonance of The Remains Of The Day for today’s theatre audience, Barney says: “There are people who will say that the story’s meditation on Britain’s relationship with Europe makes it a very current piece; I confess, I haven’t really concerned myself with that.

“Seamus Heaney spoke of avoiding the direct address of contemporary politics in his work because the alternative, in Ireland during his lifetime, tended to produce ‘Troubles trash’. I think that sentiment is well worth thinking about. The things that matter will come out in your work, I think, without you hitting them over the head with a hammer.

“The real reasons I feel the play matters in 2019 are personal again: my Northamptonshire grandparents have died over the last few years, after long and extraordinary lives, and with them, the connection my family had with this generation and these stories has been lost. So the play is a way of saying goodbye to them. Which is what we’re all having to do, bit by bit, to this world we have come from.”

The Remains Of The Day runs at York Theatre Royal, March 19 to 23, 7.30pm nightly; 2pm, Thursday and 2.30pm, Saturday. Box office: 01904 623568 or at