Exhilarating performances by Bill Nighy and Carey Mulligan enhance this engrossing revival of David Hare’s passionate 1990's British romantic drama.
But then why didn’t you?
…why do you think? Because I knew once I saw you, then I’d be finished. I knew I’d never be able to leave.
An emotionally charged and alcohol-fueled reunion between two ex-lovers is the central event of David Hare’s engrossing 1995 British romantic drama, Skylight, now being revived on Broadway.
“I read David’s play last night and found it very affecting. It has its heart on its sleeve, and deals with things that matter: i.e. how you live your life. And it’s funny.” (Richard Eyre, director of the original production of Skylight, from his 2003 memoir National Service: Diary of a Decade)
Tom Sergeant, pushing 50, is a blustery, highly successful, widowed, London restaurateur, has paid an unannounced visit to Kyra Hollis. She is an idealistic 30-year-old teacher at an underprivileged school. The two have not had contact for three years, since she walked out on him, after his wife discovered their affair of six years. They met when at 18 she got a job at one of his restaurants. The play takes place during a snowy evening, where the two catch up on each other’s lives and rehash the past from each one’s perspectives.
Skylight is arguably one of the greatest works by this eminent British dramatist. Mr. Hare’s most notable plays include, Plenty, A Map of The World, Racing Demon, Amy’s View, The Blue Room, and Stuff Happens.
With its ravishing, precise dialogue, very fine structure, and expertly imparted exposition, Skylight, is a model of accomplished playwriting. Mr. Hare is known for his Leftist political beliefs with which he infuses his plays. Here, in early post-Thatcher Britain, he has his characters eloquently debate their clashing world views, along with differing personal takes on their relationship.
Why do you think I’m working where I am? I’m sick of this denial of everyone’s potential. Whole groups of people just written off!
Oh I see, right, you’ve been reborn. Now I understand you… You see good in everyone now! How comforting! Of course. But if I could be reborn as anyone, I’m not sure Julie Andrews would be my first choice.
Like the most skillful writers for the theater, Hare is a creator of grand roles for actors. That quality is richly realized in this production.
With balletic grace, the sleek and dynamic Bill Nighy as Tom paces around for much of the first act wearing an overcoat due to the apartment’s lack of heat. He rapidly delivers Tom’s blistering remarks and speeches. Effortlessly comedic, while simultaneously capturing the anguish and anger of the character with expressiveness, it’s a titanic and historic performance.
Known from her work in films, Carey Mulligan as Kyra, is captivating. With her throaty voice, and low-key presence that erupt with emotion, she perfectly conveys the sensibility of an idealistic do-gooder. Exhibiting fierceness, humor, and subtlety, she depicts the aching conflicts that are dramatized.
Bill Nighy and Carey Mulligan in a scene from David Hare’s “Skylight” (Photo credit: John Haynes)
While trading barbs or physically reacting to Mr. Nighy, she is his equal on stage, and they are well matched as an older and younger romantic couple. Her sardonic delivery of a speech mocking self-serving capitalists, who believe they should be lionized for being “wealth creators,” is quite powerful.
In the smaller but pivotal role of Tom’s son Edward, Matthew Beard is an exuberant delight. Mr. Beard vibrantly captures the mentality of a confused and restless 18-year old. It’s a highly engaging portrait of a young man with his future before him.
Stephen Daldry’s direction contains the only flaw of the production. His work with the actors is impeccable and the pacing has momentum. However, he has imposed a distracting directorial concept on the production design.
Kyra’s genteel, cluttered apartment in a rundown neighborhood with its basic furniture and old looking kitchen is realistically rendered as in the original production and as described in the play’s stage directions. Now it is also surrounded by a large backdrop of an elaborate representation of the neighboring building with floors of windows that seem to strive for a Rear Window effect, though without showing its residents.
During scene transitions the sound of children and loud incidental music are heard. Most baffling are the walls in the apartment that slide back and forth from time to time. This reveals the bathroom and a toilet in the background that is in view for much of the play. Seemingly Mr. Daldry goal was symbolism in order to create an immersive environmental representation.
Hare has followed the dictum that the greatest drama occurs between two people in a room, and these intrusive scenic details are odd and unnecessary. Thankfully the compelling situations and colossal performances on display transcend these heavy-handed elements.
Though debatably excessive in their results, the work of the design team is successful. Bob Crowley’s set and its extraneous adornments is expert. His costumes, particularly Mr. Nighy’s tailored suit and coat give a reality to the characters.
Starring Michael Gambon, Lia Williams, and Christian Camargo, Skylight premiered in London at The Royal National Theatre in 1995. It transferred to The West End, and later to Broadway. It’s accolades included the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Play of 1996, and the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award as Best Foreign Play. With a different cast including Bill Nighy, it played again in London’s West End in 1997. This revival opened London’s West End in June 2014, and received The Evening Standard Award for Best Revival.
With its compelling writing, passionate exploration of relationships, and superb performances, this revival of Skylight is outstanding. That it has matched the acclaim of the original production makes the case for it as a modern classic of dramatic literature.
I came here today, wanting forgiveness. I thought you’d say, well OK. Things do just happen, that’s how it is. The world’s not a court. Most things are chance. That’s what I’m saying. A girl of eighteen walks down the King’s Road … And in that girl, there’s infinite potential. I suppose I just wanted some of that back.
Skylight (through June 21, 2015)
John Golden Theatre, 252 West 45th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit http://www.skylightbwy.com
Running time: two hours and twenty-five minutes with one intermission
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