Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 3
If you too are a West-End addict, you can’t have helped noticing the wealth of five-star reviews that the new production of David Hare’s ‘Skylight’ at Wyndham’s Theatre has garnered. Starring film-stars Carey Mulligan and Bill Nighy, this production has it all; great staging, a fantastic cast and a brilliant script. Good news for those of you who can’t get tickets/can’t get to London; it’s being shown in cinemas worldwide on 17th July as part of National Theatre Live. I might even go see it again!
First, the low-down on the reasonably simple plot (although after ‘Mr Burns’ and basically any Shakespeare play, anything seems simple): Kyra (Mulligan), around thirty, is a teacher working and living in two different, but equally down-and-out areas of London. One freezing winter’s evening she is visited first by 18 year old Edward Sargeant, (played expertly by Matthew Beard)). Kyra lived earlier with the Sargeant family for several years, but left abruptly after Edward’s mother, Alice (ahahahaha she has my name!), discovered Tom (Edward’s father) and Kyra’s six year affair. Alice has since died of cancer, and Edward has come looking for answers; why did Kyra – who he viewed as a sister – just walk out on the family and never make contact again?
Later that evening, after Edward has left, and Kyra is settling in for a normal night of a hot bath, making dinner and marking homework, Tom himself turns up, out of the blue. As the evening progresses, the two attempt to rekindle their once passionate relationship only to find themselves locked in a dangerous battle of opposing ideologies and mutual desires.
It sounds heavy, but there’s a surprising amount of laughs actually. The tension between the two never becomes unbearable, yet it is still a powerful play; one that really makes you think. The element I found most surprising was how much I agreed with Kyra. I had assumed before that she’d be incredibly and insufferably self-righteous. Now, I’m not saying the fact that she seemed to think she was morally superior to many others wasn’t irritating at time, but she did put forward some pretty major points about society and class differences and how to help the needy and modern self-pity. Ok, put like that it does sound rather sanctimonious, but trust me, something about the way Mulligan played it, and the way the script was written meant that I liked Kyra a whole lot more than I anticipated.
The casting was basically perfect to be honest. In fact, my only criticism of the whole play was that I wanted more stage time for Edward; perhaps because Beard played him with such energy, and yet with such realism. Or perhaps because he was on a gap year and close to my age, so I related more to him. Anyway, who cares what the reason was, all I know is he was so good I wanted more!
I’ve already said how much I liked Mulligan’s understated performance, in particular her sudden powerful outbursts after many minutes of cool, controlled, collected calm. However, she was matched by Nighy in terms of performance. He leapt about the stage, gesturing here and gesturing there with this slightly odd two-fingered point, bellowing rage one moment, on the verge of tears the next. Really, I couldn’t fault it. I couldn’t fault any of the performances actually, I honestly can’t picture anyone else performing them in the same way.
The staging was really cleverly done; the whole story takes place in Kyra’s supposedly freezing, tiny, crappy apartment. Sometimes a play with no real scene changes can get, dare I say it, a little boring, and even overly claustrophobic for an audience. However, with moving walls, working taps and stove and the outside of the flat visible, Bob Crawley turned this limitation into an advantage. One really felt a part of Kyra’s life, and, whilst getting the smallness of the flat down to a tee, having the outside world visible for a lot of the play meant that it didn’t just seem like the characters were in their own little world where nothing had any effect on anyone else.
This play is famous for having the lead actress cook spaghetti bolognaise on stage as she is talking to Tom – just let me say this: eat before you go! The smell of the cooking onions and carrots and leeks and chili is absolutely gorgeous, and, again, shows how the play is rooted in reality. I know some critics and writers think that having ‘real’ things on stage – from real food to water to fire to animals to children to kissing – in some way emphasises the falsity of the other elements, and I see their point (let’s be honest, kissing in the theatre is rarely the highlight of the evening. Either it’s too long or too awkward or someone wolf-whistles… you get my drift) but in this production it really works.
As I hope you’ve picked up, this is a seriously good piece of theatre. Light-hearted enough to be an enjoyable evening out, but interesting enough to leave you contemplative afterwards. The only teeny tiny problem I heard of was from the women behind me; we were sitting right high up in the balcony and it seemed many slightly older people were finding it quite hard to hear everything. I think this is basically a stylistic choice; the actors want their performances as naturalistic and realistic as possible, but, that being said, if you are just booking now and would prefer not to listen pretty closely then book the lower seats! Or go to the NT Live showing of course.
Basically an amazing production of a great play. Go and see it while you can!
Skylight at Wyndham’s Theatre: 5/5 stars