Skylight, first staged at the National in 1995, is being revived for the second time in the West End and it is easy to see why the play has had such endurance and received such accolades (Olivier Award for Best New Play and Tony Award for Best Play). David Hare takes us into the world of Kyra and Tom and beautifully weaves the political and emotional in such a way that you never feel like you are being preached to. On the contrary, Hare has inhabited his characters so completely that the audience is swayed this way and that, like pawns in a game of chess.
Kyra lives in a freezing rundown council flat in North London and teaches children from disadvantage backgrounds in East Ham (oh, the commute!). In walks Tom, a self-made restaurant entrepreneur whom she has not seen in three years. Turns out that Kyra used to be part of his family but left suddenly after his wife learned of their six-year love affair. The first act does suffer slightly from some not so subtle exposition when Kyra and Tom retell how they met and fell in love but one can forgive Hare as the rest of the play is such a joy to watch. The dialogue between the nouveau riche restaurateur, who can’t understand why anyone would choose to live in such squalid conditions, and the earnest teacher, who wants to save the world one student at a time, is compelling and did I mention very funny. Hare has managed to draw us into a literal “kitchen sink drama” while giving us a complex collision of beliefs.
Tom is all male entitlement, feeling let down by his dying wife who never gave him the absolution he needed and seeks Kyra’s embrace to cauterise his wounds and feel whole again. But, as we know, rekindling old relationships is never easy and thus begins a tennis match where volleys are exchanged and old gripes are aired. Kyra derides Tom’s self-pity and lack of understanding of how the other half (or is that 95% nowadays) lives. She is unsparing in her attack on those who sneer at teachers, social workers and probation officers who mop up society’s mess.
But if this all sounds very weighty, it is not. The second act is where Hare’s craftsmanship comes to the fore as the polemic feels completely organic to the story. Stephen Daldry has brought his magic directorial touch to a fine script where the dialogue between Carey Mulligan’s Kyra and Bill Nighy’s Tom is pitch perfect.
Bill Nighy played the part some 19 years ago and revisits the role with all the energy of a much younger actor. His disdain for an old piece of Parmesan tells you everything about a man who feels he should be able to buy happiness by purchasing things. The skylight of the title being the room he built for his dying wife who nevertheless never delivered him from his guilt. He is restless and full of bravado but ultimately cuts a sad figure as man who just won’t have his cake and eat it too. The emotional and political distance between the two lovers becomes all too apparent over the course of the evening. Mulligan as Kyra is completely convincing as a women caught between her staunch beliefs and a visceral attraction to her former lover. She is passionate without being strident and maintains a half-smile as Tom struts his stuff around her flat. Matthew Beard plays Tom’s son Ed who visits the flat pre and post Tom. He is excellent as the teenage boy worried for his father and seeking to understand why Kyra has left their life. I must make a special mention of the fantastic and ingenious set designed by Bob Crowley where the council estate forms a lit backdrop to Kyra’s flat and where an entire spaghetti sauce is cooked and eaten on stage.
Go and see this beautifully directed and designed production that marries so well passion and politics.