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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
SKYLIGHT
at Wyndhams

OLD HABITS
By KATE BASSETT

  Bill Nighy and Carey Mulligan/ Ph: John Haynes

David Hare was a mighty big fish at the National Theatre in the early 1990s. That was when the NT premiered his epic, landmark, state-of-the-nation trilogy: Racing Demon, about the Church of England; Murmuring Judges, which surveyed the country's legal system; and The Absence of War, dealing with Westminster's party politics. 
 
Skylight, which followed in 1995, might sound slight by comparison. This is Hare’s chamber piece where a widowed, West London restaurateur named Tom wants to rekindle a past romance and so pays a surprise call on Kyra, the younger woman with whom he had an extramarital affair.
 
Two decades on, what's remarkable about director Stephen Daldry's droll and trenchant West End revival is how well this play has aged, and how vivaciously the personal and political are intertwined. Carey Mulligan certainly gives Bill Nighy, as her ex, a run for his money. Or rather, her Kyra proves herself more than a match for him whilst fiercely shunning Tom’s wealth.
 
For sure, Hare has created a drama out of, primarily, rather obvious polar opposites. Nighy’s Tom is a shamelessly self-centred capitalist, a Thatcher-influenced entrepreneur and old-school sexist who strides back into Kyra’s life in a luxurious camel hair coat and a whirl of high-handed egocentricity. What he’s walking into – leaving his chauffeur to wait outside – is a rundown housing project. 
 
Bob Crowley’s set design strikingly presents a vista of a whole underprivileged community, with row upon row of concrete girders and graffiti-scrawled balconies as its backdrop, plus falling snow. Here Kyra is holed up in a shabby, barely heated apartment. The single life she has chosen is resolutely leftwing with a social conscience, dedicating herself to teaching school kids in a rough neighbourhood. Thus she spurns the lifestyle she enjoyed when, as a teenage waitress, she was taken under the wing of Tom’s unsuspecting wife and became his lover. 
 
That said, the class divide is complicated as Nighy has a faint trace of cockney in his accent and Kyra is, we glean, the daughter of a well-to-do solicitor. Hare’s is clearly championing the underdog to a considerable extent, and Skylight certainly resonates in today’s Britain where there’s so much simmering outrage about the economic gulf between society’s haves and have-nots. 
 
The play’s sympathies aren’t simplistic, though. Nighy’s Tom has raffish charm, sardonic wit and irresistible comic timing, as well as flashes of grief-stricken, yearning tenderness. Somehow his performance manages to be startlingly poignant even though he’s a mass of mannerisms –repeatedly spinning on his toes to convey restless energy or planting himself assertively downstage centre.
 
By contrast, Mulligan has a quietly potent serenity about her, a mature watchful acumen and mellow-voiced gravitas that occasionally erupts in explosive anger – or ardour. Matthew Beard also, incidentally, deserves a round of applause. He has a relatively small part as Tom’s son, who brings Kyra breakfast in the closing scene, but he beautifully captures the sweet, comic gawkiness of adolescence. All in all, highly recommended.
 
 
Kate Bassett is a theatre critic for The Times of London.

 


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