He’s a rich restaurateur, she a poor schoolteacher. Although decades older than she is, he prances and fidgets like a rock star, while she stands still like a rock. Yet, for six years, Tom and Kyra were in love. It was not a happily-ever-after kind of love: Tom was married, and, when his wife found out about the affair, Kyra split.
Now, three years later, when they meet again, their values are so different that the only thing they clearly have in common in director Stephen Daldry’s first-rate Broadway revival of David Hare’s 1995 play “Skylight” is how extraordinary the performances of the two actors who portray them, Bill Nighy and Carey Mulligan.
They perform with an unusual combination of subtlety and intensity, in a play that is itself a rare combination of comedy and drama, love story and political commentary.
It’s been a year since Tom’s wife has died of cancer, and Tom decides to visit his old flame Kyra at her run-down housing project in a rough part of London; it becomes clear quickly that he is hoping for a reconciliation. It becomes clear a little less quickly that Kyra does indeed love him still. But as the evening progresses into night, we understand that their differing world views will trump their love for one another.
Unlike some of Hare’s more explicitly political works – such as Stuff Happens, about American officials’ plunge into the Iraq War – the politics in “Skylight” is woven into the characters’ personal conflict.
Yes, there are some clear-cut political positions: Kyra blasts the “self-pity of the rich,” who no longer talk of “making money” but of “the creation of wealth,” and expect to be praised for this loftier-sounding description. Tom suggests that the do-gooders like Kyra have a “sentimental illusion” about ordinary people that’s something of a pose: “Loving the people’s an easy project for you. Loving a person … now that’s something different.”
As even-handed as Hare seems present the characters’ beliefs, I think we are meant to see the concrete damage and inequity that Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s policies have wrought; it’s in the very set and costume design by Bob Crowley – Tom’s custom-tailored suit and top coat, Kyra’s freezing flat and layers of old sweaters.
But so many of the accusations and arguments are so specific to the characters, and come amid so much else in their relationship, that one could overlook the politics of it all together, and still find the play rich in nuance and insight.
The scenes between Nighy and Mulligan are bookended with visits by Tom’s 18-year-old son Edward, which would feel contrived if the actor portraying Edward, Matthew Beard in his Broadway debut, weren’t himself so terrific. He is believably on the cusp between boyhood and manhood, with a subtle shadow of his father’s mannerisms. There’s something about the palpable familiarity and affection between Kyra and Edward which drives home just how sad it is that they’re not now, and won’t ever be, family.
By David Hare; directed by Stephen Daldry; designed by Bob Crowley; lighting by Natasha Katz; sound by Paul Arditti; music by Paul Englishby; production stage manager, William Joseph Barnes
Cast: Carey Mulligan (Kyra Hollis), Bill Nighy (Tom Sergeant) and Matthew Beard (Edward Sergeant).
Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes including one intermission.
Skylight is scheduled to run through June 14, 2015