NEXT Tuesday sees the Salisbury premiere of Barney Norris’ latest play, an adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s classic Booker Prize winning novel, The Remains of the Day. The play has already received great reviews on its run elsewhere, and I’m excited to see what Barney has done with one of my favourite books (no pressure).

It’s an intriguing choice of book to adapt. Firstly, there’s the 1993 film starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson, and written by Harold Pinter and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, which still lingers long in the imagination. Then there is Ishiguro’s own idea of creating fiction. In his lecture on winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2017, he recalled realising how his first novel ‘resembled a screenplay – dialogue plus directions’. He decided to change his writing so that it ‘could produce richness on the page and offer inner movements impossible to capture on any screen.’ Good news for the reader: less so, perhaps, for anyone attempting to adapt his work.

The secret to a good adaptation is giving yourself the space to tell the story in a way that suits the genre. As Barney said in an article last month, ‘metaphorically and rhythmically the theatre is entirely unlike any other medium and needs to find its own music.’ That involves going back to the original text and teasing out the essence of what the narrative is about. When I caught up with Barney last week, I asked him what it was about the book that grabbed him: ‘What I wanted to write about in writing The Remains of the Day was grief-in-life, the idea of grieving,’ he explained. ‘That’s what I find beautiful about the book – its vision lends depth to life.’

Ishiguro has never been a showy writer. Achieving fame at the time of Martin Amis and Salman Rushdie, his work is both quieter and subtler. Which isn’t to say that strong emotions aren’t there – their power is that they’re hidden, buried within. Or as Barney describes it, ‘Ishiguro’s work matters to us all because he shows us the lie. The ice. The surface we skate on, beneath which the wild is lurking.’

Going back to plays finding their own music, one of the crucial moments for Ishiguro writing The Remains of the Day was hearing the Tom Waits song, Ruby’s Arms, about a soldier leaving his sleeping lover. For Ishiguro, there was something about ‘a gruff American hobo utterly unaccustomed to revealing his inner emotions’. He realised that for his protagonist, the buttoned-up butler Stevens, he similarly ‘had to make his armour crack’, offering a heartbreaking glimpse of the emotions underneath.

If anyone can make this powerful scene sing for the stage, it’s Barney Norris.