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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
The plot in a double-length tweet: A six-year extra marital May-December affair, that ends when the wife finds out is temporarily re-ignited a year after her death; but it's doomed by the gulf between his materialistic and her idealistic views of life.
To expand on that tweet: The affair began when she was just 18 and came to work in one of his growing chain of restaurants and became a member of his family. The action begins a year after the betrayed wife's death (cancer), with Tom's coming to her grungy, poorly heated apartment for their contentious but heartbreaking reunion.
I saw and reviewed Skylight in 1996, more than 20 years ago. That production was also a British transfer with Michael Gambon, and the play, the set and the great Gambon's Tom and Lisa Williams's Kyra have lingered vividly in my memory.
I didn't like this current revival better than the 1996 production. However, the terrific meshing of Nighy's showy, physical style, and Carey Mulligan's more quiet but finely expressed vulnerability, rekindled my fondness for the play.
Say what you will about Nighy's scenery chewing performance, he's got the charm and ability to make it impossible to to resist him, just as his character makes it impossible for Kyra not to succumb to her still strong feelings for him. And while the age gap has widened to thirty-five years and made this more a January-December than May-December affair, Nighy has an aged-resistant charisma gene.
Unlike David Hare's more recent works which tend to put the political before the personal, in Skylight the personal leads. That's not to say Tom and Kyra's reunion doesn't take its usual detour into Shavian discussion play territory. In fact it's the gulf between Tom's dyed-in-in-the-wool capitalalistic views and life style and Kyra's more idealistic existence that is the principal cause for this love story's melancholy ending. (I use that heartbreak intentionally, since Nighy and Mulligan have you rooting for them to get past their differences). It's Hare's gift for making even these politically infused harangues sound like natural conversations that gives Skylight its durability as a well-made play.
Somehow the only thing that stuck in my mind about the 1996 production's opening and closing appearances by Tom's son Edward was that it was my first encounter with a terrific young actor, Christian Camargo. I've since seen Camargo take on a number of challenging roles and also, joining a bunch of other stage actors in season 3 of the Netflix binge-fest original, House of Cards. (Alas it's a one episode appearance since his character ends up at the end of a rope, or rather a scarf).
The current Skylight features another impressive debut by Matthew Beard. As directed by Stephen Daldry, Beard's Edward so realistically copycats Bill Nighy's tics and movements to prompt a quick Google check to see if he might indeed by Nighy's real life son. While it's never clear how both Edward and Tom happen to show up on the same day, after three years of no contact, Beard's amusing first scene and touching finale nicely bookend the play.
Daldry's direction over all is excellent as is true for the entire technical team. Bob Crowley scenic design brilliantly takes us inside as well outside of Kyra's depressingly grrungy apartment in a bock of low income housing in northwest London. Natasha Katz's lighting and Paul Arditti's sound design, and Paul Englishby's incidental music round out the picture.
Finally, the political diatribes that escalate in the morning after second act are unfortunately not dated. The play unfolds just after the end of the Thatcher regime which spawned a lot of one-percenters like Tom and even more have-nots like the families whose kids Kyra teaches. Much of this is likely to strike a chord with New York theater goers.