Monday, 14 July 2014
Skylight at Wyndhams Theatre
Just when I think I’ve seen the production of all productions another one comes along, which is better. I’m talking about the wonderful David Hare’s play Skylight now playing at Wyndhams Theatre. I knew it would be good. I love Bill Nighy, Carey Mulligan and the playwright but I had no idea how good. It is one of those rare evenings that you don’t want to end and feel so honoured to be witnessing a near perfect production.
Stephen Daldry directs this revival of Skylight, which was first staged at the National Theatre in 1995 and how brilliantly he does so. The two hours spent in the company of Bill Nighy, Carey Mulligan and, briefly, Matthew Beard are two hours of absolute joy, such is the believability of their relationships and honesty of their performances. So real are the goings-on on stage that at times it feels wrong to be witnessing their emotional turmoil.
Written during the Thatcher years, Skylight highlights the two worlds of have’s and have-nots. Carey Mulligans Kyra Hollis is in her late twenties and teaching maths in a strapped for cash East End school. Her home is a grotty council flat, a far cry from her privileged upbringing and the six years she spent with Bill Nighy’s Tom Sergeant. Tom is an extremely successful restaurateur, for whom Kyra started working aged eighteen. Her work life spilled out into her social one when she stayed with and befriended Tom and his family, eventually becoming his lover. This passionate affair only came to an end when Tom’s wife discovered what was going on prompting Kyra to disappear and re-invent herself as a reactionary to all ‘the right-wing f***ers’ who belittle teachers and social workers. She spends her days teaching disadvantaged children and her nights being holed up in the type of accommodation in which they would live.
Skylight plays out during one winter’s night, three years after the death of Tom’s wife. Kyra, about to get into a hot bath, as an antidote to her freezing cold flat, is visited by Edward Sergeant, Tom’s teenage son, all lanky limbs and awkwardness, wonderfully realised by Matthew Beard. It is immediately evident whose son he is, with his quirky mannerisms and unconscious tics and there is a genuine warmth between him and Kyra. Even though he only top and tails the play, Edward is an essential ingredient and his thoughtful gesture at the end, is a joy.
It’s a night for visitors as, following the departure of Edward, his father arrives, sad, guilty and hell bent on winning back the love of his life. But does she want to return to his life of privilege, or is she content with her ‘sackcloth and ashes’ existence in Kensal Rise? For the remainder of the play we are privy to the couple’s arguments, insults and, above all love. For there is no doubt that they still love one another. The writing highlights this but also the chemistry between Nighy and Mulligan. He may look older than David Hare intended, she younger, but there is no doubting that the age gap means nothing. One of the main reasons for their separation continuing even though Tom is now single is time. Kyra has moved on and whether her decision to ‘rough it’ is based on genuine idealism or her way of assuaging her guilt at their affair, it seems there is no going back. Or is there? Throughout there are glimpses that she maybe succumbing to Tom’s obvious charms, giving the play a will they, won’t they feel to it. It’s not for me to provide the answer.
Bill Nighy is a physical presence on stage, compared to Carey Mulligan’s stillness, but both are exemplary. The sharp suited Nighy prowls and performs dance-like moves (several with a chair), whilst veering between grief, rage and tenderness in equal measure. He is also wonderfully funny, speaking Hare’s fantastic dialogue as only Bill Nighy can. You hang onto every word, mesmerised. Meanwhile Mulligan more than holds her own, but in her own still, self possessed way. There is no doubting her passion, and the moments when she recollects happy times is so painful to watch. That she loves the older man, despite his many faults is never in question. That’s not to say that Kyra isn’t capable of anger and her flinging of the cutlery drawer is as spontaneous a show of anger as can be found in any theatre . Kyra may verge on the irritating, Tom on the controlling but both are real. David Hare has not only written a political play but a passionate one about love and loss. We’ve all been there, we all recognise the emotions being played out in front of us.
Not only are the actors at the top of their game. Director Stephen Daldry, Designer Bob Crowley and Sound Designer Paul Arditti cannot be faulted. The inside of Kyra’s council flat is perfection, with a water heater that has a life of its own. Not only that but Bob Crowley has created a backdrop of the outside of matching dingy apartments with Edward and Tom coming and going along what is obviously the ubiquitous outside corridor. The credibility of such a council estate is cemented by the constant muted sounds of the life outside; dog barking, child crying, cars coming and going.
What more can I say, other than that I would love to see Skylight again and again and again. It is perfection.