Stephen Daldry’s revival of David Hare’s Skylight will be “live” broadcast in UK cinemas on Thursday July 17th. Ryan Pollard went to the West End this week to find out if the production is worth seeing…
Bill Nighy (Love Actually, In Time, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) and Carey Mulligan (An Education, Inside Llewyn Davis, The Great Gatsby) feature in the highly-anticipated and sold-out production of David Hare’s Skylight, directed by Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot, The Reader), and broadcasted live from the West End by National Theatre Live to cinemas across the UK. Skylight was originally produced at the National Theatre in 1995, before transferring to the West End and Broadway, and won an Olivier Award for Best Play. On a bitterly cold London evening, schoolteacher Kyra Hollis (Carey Mulligan) receives an unexpected visit from her former lover, Tom Sergeant (Bill Nighy), a successful and charismatic restaurateur whose wife has recently died. 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.
After receiving so much hype and so many sell-out performances, the question is does Skylight live up to that anticipation, especially as it’s starring two acclaimed actors? The short answer is: yes. Part of the strength of both production and play, and perhaps the most surprising element, is the level of bitter humour that is often embedded throughout, mainly during the powerful confrontations between Mulligan and Nighy. Yet, beneath the occasional funny moment, there’s a strong element of tragedy to the way the characters have become. Nighy’s character is someone who has a successful business and loads of money, but yet, he had this affair with Mulligan that completely tore his own life apart, as well as her’s. He never resolved the issues with his wife before she died, he is unable to connect with his teenage son (played in a very naturalistic manner by Matthew Beard), and is struggling to cope and understand Mulligan’s own ideologies about the world. Mulligan’s character, on the other hand, even though she became a teacher to help struggling students, is devoid of friends and loved ones, and was perhaps at her most happiest when she was with Nighy’s character, but yet, she no longer wants to remember it. In many ways, Skylight has a deep feeling of melancholy at its heart, and is at times, somewhat of a moving “tragicomedy”.
In regards to the politics of Skylight, this is set back in the major years when the government was cracking down on the welfare state and the public sector, yet what David Hare has managed to do with his story now is to revive that topic for a modern audience. Plus, even though it’s meant to be set at a distinct time period during the 80s/90s, those themes and problems about society and the difficulties about gender and politics that are discussed in the play can still resonate now for a modern audience.
In terms of the performance level, both Mulligan and Nighy are at the top of their game. As soon as Nighy comes on stage, you can’t take your eyes off him. He paces the grotty flat in his sharp suit and overcoat like as if he’s some sort of an angry old lion in a cage, and in one scene, regards the piece of sweaty cheese that Mulligan plans to use in a pasta sauce as if it were marginally less enticing than dog poop. But in the end, this is really Carey Mulligan’s show, and she completely dominates everything with her breathtakingly powerful performance. It really is a performance of extraordinarily contained power, ranging from wry self-possession to disciplined fury to deep and raw vulnerability, and her final speech about defending people who try to do some good in society is stirring and beautifully delivered. Carey Mulligan is the Audrey Hepburn of this generation, and here she reminds us how fantastic she was in films like An Education, Never Let Me Go, Drive, Shame, and so on. The entirety of the play is set in Kyra’s apartment flat; the set is a superb recreation of a grotty council house with a breathtaking backdrop. The mundane setting reflects the isolation and detachment of Mulligan’s current state, and it feels almost like it was another main character.
David Hare’s story may be timeless, but the real appeal here is in the sparring of two magnetic leads on a hugely satisfying night of theatre that leaves you reflecting long and hard into the night on the central question of whether compassion or hard edged pragmatism are the keys to living well. Hare’s play will stay with you long after it has finished, hitting you straight between the eyes with its mixture of private pain and public rage at our profoundly polarised society, whilst leaving you breathless by its sheer power.