Bill Nighy and Carrie Mulligan Photos
by John Haynes
“I mean, to be a teacher, the only thing you really have going for
you … there’s only one thing that makes the whole thing make sense, and that is
finding one really good pupil.”
Kyra, the schoolteacher character who is devoting her life to
teaching disadvantaged kids in Northwest London, speaks those words at the
play’s close. And if her career choice smacks of heroism, well, there’s no
doubt she does emerge in David Hare’s Skylight, now in a potent revival
at the Golden Theatre, as a modern heroine.
Just in case you haven’t heard the buzz, this current Broadway
production of Skylight has crossed the pond following its 2014 hit run
in the West End. The terrific cast includes Bill Nighy as the middle-aged
rich restaurateur Tom Sergeant, Carrie Mulligan as the devoted 30-ish
schoolteacher Kyra Hollis, and Matthew Beard (a Broadway newbie) as Tom’s
18-year-old son Edward Sergeant. And even if you swear that the 1997 Broadway
staging of Skylight can’t possibly be bettered, Stephen Daldry’s (An
Inspector Calls, Billy Elliott) mounting is clearly going on record
as a mighty fine one.
On the surface, the play is about two “old flames,” Kyra and Tom,
connecting one evening in Kyra’s rundown London flat. Tom has unexpectedly
dropped by her place, and Kyra can’t resist inviting him in for a spell to
catch up on his life in general. Years ago, Kyra had worked for Tom in his
posh restaurant business, moved into his homestead, and became a family friend
of his wife and adolescent son. For six years, Kyra was also Tom’s mistress.
But when his wife found out about the relationship, Kyra abruptly left the
Sergeant home and began a new life for herself.
Although the play really revolves around Kyra and Tom (now widowed
a year) as they debate the possibility of rekindling their past relationship,
there’s a strong political thread interwoven into the repartee between the
pair. Skylight keenly captures England in its post-Thatcher days. And
those theatergoers who recall that period will easily catch the references to
the “Poll Tax” and other Thatcher-isms that pepper Hare’s language. In fact,
much of this play’s appeal is that it is not only a tale of two “old flames”
connecting again but a glance back to a very different decade and a vanished
Crowley’s set is just right for a gritty and virtually heatless
London flat. It has the look of working class digs, complete with an old
stove, a small fridge, and threadbare furniture. This dinginess is counter
pointed by Natasha Katz’s poetic lighting, which sometimes casts a
preternatural glow over the stage at crucial moments.
Incidentally, there’s a real spaghetti dinner cooked on stage in
this production. And if you sit in the front rows of the orchestra, you can
really smell the homemade meal in process, complete with tomatoes being pureed
into sauce and some garlic for seasoning. It brings an incredible realism to
the staging and definitely adds a warm human dimension to the goings-on.
While the cooking add ambience, the real ace here is the acting.
Those who caught Nighy in The Vertical Hour on Broadway in 2014 will be
pleased to see him in fine fettle here. He inhabits his restaurateur character
with swash and buckle, and often infuses a droll humor into his lines.
Mulligan is simply flawless as Kyra, balancing her idealism with a worldly
savvy. Matthew Beard performs Edward as if he was born for this part, and
brings a refreshing spontaneity to his filial role. Although he’s in a
supporting part, he’s unforgettable at the close of the play as he postures as
a waiter and serves a gourmet breakfast to Kyra in her chilly flat.
Skylight is educative art at its best. Never preachy, ever fascinating,
it is a serious look at two ex-lovers who cross paths again and take an
inventory of their lives to date—and wonder about their future. Tom and Kyra’s
hearts are plumbed, their ideologies are explored, and their minds and hearts
continually spar during this 2 hour-plus piece.
This play will make some sigh, others cry, and everybody become
more conscious of the fact that love is a mystery that is impossible to fathom.
Through June 21, 2015.
At the Golden Theatre, 252 West 45 Street, Manhattan
For tickets, visit https://www.telecharge.com For
more information, go to www.skylightbwy.com
Running Time: 2 hours; 20 minutes with one intermission.