NT Live, broadcast from Wyndham’s, London
17th July, 2014
David Hare said in the interval of the NT Live broadcast that one of the conditions for reviving the play in the West End was for it to have an NT Live screening so that his play could be seen all over the country (and indeed the world). What an excellent idea as Skylight, one of Hare’s best plays and the first of his to be set in a single space, is so relevant and exciting to watch that a wider audience should get the chance to see it. What’s more, the benefits of NT Live is that the most intimate of moments such as Tom and Kyra’s hand coming close to contact are captured faultlessly.
First performed in 1995, the play sees restaurateur Tom visit his former employee and lover Kyra in her high-rise flat. They haven’t seen each other since his wife Alice (who took Kyra in as a member of the family) found out about their affair. Alice has now lost her battle with cancer and Tom, struggling with his guilt and grief, tries to rekindle his old love with Kyra.
Conflict, it is often said, is the essence of drama and in Skylight you’re aware of where those conflicts lie and at what price they come. In this riveting, highly watchable play, Hare effectively and precisely explores how Tom and Kyra love each other but cannot be together. Tom has profited from expanding his large chain of restaurants and hotels, is suspicious of pen pushers and sneers at political correctness. Kyra, on the other hand, has made new life decisions since leaving Tom; she teaches in a school beneath her academic potential on one side of London and lives in a hovel compared to Outer Siberia on the other side of London. She’s using her talents to truly help people along with the social workers and probation officers of society, something she feels gets scorned by Tory politicians and newspapers. But the crux of the argument comes when Tom argues that she’s making this sacrifice to punish herself over their affair. Both are truly convincing. Tom’s argument is humorously brought across in such moments as opening her eyes to see that she’s living in a place from which other people are desperately trying to get out and Kyra’s through applause-inducing Socialist monologues. But with Skylight, your opinion is changed as easily as when Tom quips that Kyra has been reborn as Julie Andrews, putting the ball back in his court. Bookending the play is Tom’s son Edward (played well by Matthew Beard). Different to his dad, his hunger to get a job and wanting him to stop feeling sorry for himself connects with Kyra, although it is ironic that he brings her a Ritz breakfast at the end.
Bill Nighy gives one of the most thrilling performances I’ve seen. He completely pulls off Tom’s charisma, going full throttle when he feels his arguments are onto a winning streak, but pulling back excellently when he realises the full extent of his grief. Tom is completely dominant as Nighy thrashes around the stage, kicking chairs and waving his whiskey glass as if he owned the place. Carey Mulligan, however, is no less persuasive. Much subtler, she brings a warmth to Kyra as well as a toughness brought from a strong work ethic. She balances Tom’s exertion perfectly but also shows that she can give as much force as him. Furthermore, cooking a meal throughout the play is no mean task and perhaps a nod to this largely two-hander having a cooker-pressure quality. Finally, Bob Crowley’s impressive set is dominated by the colourful tower block of windows opposite, acting as a constant reminder of the conditions in which Kyra’s living.
Whether it’s intentional or not, there’s something really cosy about Skylight: its rich characters, a relationship in which we hold interest and its chamber piece atmosphere. Yet it also challenges your own political values; never is the play a cipher for an absolute left wing stance. The play, I feel, is also a more robust exploration of Thatcherism than The Secret Rapture (1988). But overall it’s Kyra’s socialist efforts that seem to hold up the best argument; as David Hare also said in the interval interview, the play is set at the end of a long Conservative government where the country was in need of a change. Perhaps, in deed, the same can be said for now.
This production of Skylight plays on Broadway next spring, while David Hare’s The Absence of War plays at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre 6th-21st February 2015 prior to a UK tour.