Theatre Review: Skylight at Wyndham’s Theatre

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Revived for the first time in a UK theatre since 1997, David Hare’s Skylight is the first of this year’s West End star vehicles, with Carey Mulligan and Bill Nighy as the two leads and Stephen Daldry in the director’s chair.

Hare’s play, written before Kensal Rise was colonised by the Queen’s Park latte sipping, yogic overspill (which impinges a bit of some of The Points), is part love story, part political debate. Despite being nearly 20 years old, the themes that run through Skylight resonate more than ever as it showcases the cyclical argument between two sides of the political debate: are we responsible for others – for those worse off in society – or does everyone simply have to look out for themselves? Skylight also runs the gauntlet through guilt, responsibility and love.

Nighy and Mulligan play Tom Sergeant and Kyra Hollis, two former lovers who meet for the first time since the end of their adulterous affair three years ago. The two have vastly different views of the world, but can their love bridge the chasm of political differences?

The play, set exclusive in Kyra’s frigid, sparse flat, opens with her receiving her first guest of the day, Tom’s 18 year-old son Edward (Matthew Beard) bouncing in uninvited and asking her to help heal his father whose spark has left him since the death of his wife Alice, a year ago. Edward is an absolute charm and Beard plays him with an endearing naivety and laconic wit, shadows, we will see, of Nighy’s Tom. Beard’s Edward doesn’t appear again until the end, and such was the impact of his small role, that I rather missed him in the bits in between.

Later, while running a bath, Kyra is interrupted by the blare of her broken intercom announcing the arrival of Tom, and so begins a night of passion, polemics and pasta. Tom is a rich restaurateur with a chauffeur and the beginnings of a chip on his shoulder. He shouldn’t be a likeable man, but Nighy’s innate charm and comic timing ensure that you fall for him. Nighy first played Tom Sergeant back in 1996 and he’s so at home in the role that it’s difficult to see anyone but him as Tom.

Kyra, a middle class solicitor’s daughter who’s living an almost saintly life in penance for her comfortable upbringing, is a teacher in an inner city school in East Ham. She is on the side of the fence that says we are collectively responsible, although Hare doesn’t present her as an angel, after all, she happily had a six year affair with a man while living under the same roof as his wife and two children and admits to not feeling the slightest bit guilty about it. And what of her well meaning motives, is she, as Tom suggests, patronising and misunderstanding of the people she is trying to help?

If this all sounds rather heavy and Issue Driven, it’s not. Skylight is far more fun than that, Hare’s script is full of humour and lightness of touch inbetween the bigger points and it’s delivered on with assurance and wit by the cast.

The living set was a lot of fun, with Nighy and Mulligan being called on to muster all their acting dexterity to actually cook on stage (do not go and see this play on an empty stomach). Watching the actors chop, grate and stir, the tomato sauce bubbling away on the stove while Tom and Kyra trash out their world views, added an extra element of realism while the off-hand cooking disagreements softened the more intense dialogue.

As much as I enjoyed Skylight, I couldn’t help think that in less able actors’ hands, Hare’s script would have been in danger of being overly plummy and self-conscious. That is, of course, part of Hare’s appeal; he writes witty, captivating dialogue that has its roots in realism but is unashamedly heightened and dramatic and as such is full of potential theatrical potholes which a top bill cast like this deftly avoid. Not surprisingly, Nighy is particularly as ease with Hare’s dialogue and his undeniable stage presence rather dominated the duals between him and Mulligan. Mulligan is quietly great, but part of Kyra seems oddly slight, for all her firebrand opinions and self-possession she seems a little slight.

Skylight is an elegantly written and slickly performed play which stirs up some well-worn themes with a fresh voice.

by Suzanne Elliott

Theatre Review: The Weir, Wyndham’s Theatre

The Weir, Wyndham's Theatre

The Weir, Wyndham’s Theatre

The Weir is one of those plays that’s about nothing and everything. It’s a gentle, funny play for the most part, with a plot that revolves around five people getting pissed in a down-at-heel pub in an unnamed, remote part of Ireland, livening their whiskey soaked evening with ghost stories.

But Irish playwright Conor McPherson’s script delves into the human heart and extracts a play that’s moving, funny and tender. Billed as a ghost story, The Weir isn’t a spine tingling scarathon in the vein of Woman in Black; The Weir’s ghosts are far more human.

It’s a wet, blustery night (both, as it happens, inside and outside the theatre) and local bachelors Jack (Brian Cox) and Jim (Ardal O’Hanlon) have taken refuge in their local with barman Brendan in his shabby – in a decidedly un-chic way – pub. They are joined by married regular, the flashy in a small town way Finbar (Risteárd Cooper)  and Veronica (Dervla Kirwan)  a young woman who’s recently moved from Dublin to this part of the world searching for a bit of peace.

She doesn’t get much on this particular night as the four men, in a bid to impress the attractive blow-in, start narrating their personal ghost stories with verbocious Jack as the eloquent ringleader.  But amongst these stories of ghouls and spirits, the most haunting tale of them all is all too real.

The Weir is engaging and funny and filled with sadness and regrets that overflow like Valerie’s pint of wine. The cast are all fantastic; Brian Cox’s Jack shifts effortlessly from Guinness-fuelled show-off to reveal a man scarred by heartbreak and regret. Dervla Kirwan is quietly and then devastatingly brilliant as the lone woman with a past so shatteringly sad that the men – and the audience, or this audience member at least – are stopped in their tracks.

The Weir may not spook you, but it will haunt you in other – more affecting – ways.

by Suzanne Elliott