By: David Sheward
When playgoers walk into the Golden for the new revival of Skylight, David Hare’s intimate 1996 drama, they might think they’re
walking into a squalid flat rather than a theater. Designer Bob Crowley’s set is so suggestively detailed and close to the audience, it feels as if we are eavesdropping on the characters-Kyra and Tom, a pair of mismatched lovers coming together after several years apart.
The two are separated by age, class, and political leanings. Hare’s crackling dialogue does feel at times as if the two are debating each other rather than talking and Stephen Daldry’s staging occasionally places them in obvious adversarial positions at direct opposite sides of the stage. But the naturalistic performances of Carey Mulligan and Bill Nighy, both of whom starred in the hit London production, melts the script’s cold social ambitions and ignites this contentious reunion.
Hare seeks to combine the romantic with the political. As in most of his plays, he demonstrates that everyone’s personal lives are inextricably bound with how the country they live in is governed. Tom is a wildly successful restaurateur and hotel-owner. The much younger Kyra worked for him as a waitress and manager and was his mistress until Tom’s wife Ann found out about the affair. Kyra then abruptly left Tom’s "bubble of money and good taste" to become a teacher of underprivileged kids. Ann has since died of cancer and Tom has come to Kyra’s frigid, miserable apartment to rekindle the relationship. But she resists, claiming she is no longer the young girl Tom knew and her values have changed. Tom’s desperate attempts to get her back form the meat of the play as the two wrangle over Britain’s social policies, particularly those of the anti-welfare Thatcher regime, and the eternal struggle between the haves and have-nots.
Apart from the occasional overly didactic moment when we can hear Hare’s voice haranguing us, Daldry and his company-which also includes an excellent Matthew Beard as Tom’s drifting son Edward-make the play into a believable and heartbreaking night spent with real people trying to find comfort in a cold, snowy world. Nighy prowls the set like a caged panther, actually leaping into the air at one point. Whereas Michael Gambon in the original New York-London production smashed his way through the setting like a tank, Nighy is a hyperanimated greyhound, sniffing his quarry’s lair for clues to her new existence. He explodes with anger, sexual passion, and energy. He exposes Tom’s pain as well as his egotism and charisma, so that it’s perfectly creditable Kyra would be, and still is, attracted to this blustering capitalist.
While Nighy is a raging tornado, Mulligan is a soft rain shower, but hers is the more shaded performance. She gives subtle voice to Kyra’s firmly held beliefs and conflicted desires, building in intensity gradually and infrequently. But her most eloquent moments are silent. When she listens, her whole body is involved and when Kyra must decide between Tom and her new life, the conflict is visible on her expressive features. Plus, she cooks a mean spaghetti meal live on stage. Dinner and a show, what more could you ask for?
April 2-June 21. Golden Theatre, 252 W. 45th St., NYC. Tue., Thu., 7 p.m.; Wed., Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Wed., Sat., 2 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. Running time: two hours and 20 mins. including intermission; $60-$149. (212) 239-6200 or www.telecharge.com.
Photos: John Haynes