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A CurtainUp London London Review

It was how I was told you could get women into bed. By doing something called "listening to their problems" . . . . It's a contemptible tactic. . . . Listening's half way to begging . . . — Tom
Bill Nighy as Tom and Carey Mulligan as Kyra (Photo: John Haynes)
It is a rare event to see Carey Mulligan on the London stage, but the star of The Great Gatsby has been persuaded to join Bill Nighy in a revival of Skylight, David Hare's 1995 play about adultery and its fall out. Mulligan plays Kyra Hollis, a teacher who has had a long term affair with married man, businessman and chef, Tom Sergeant. She leaves him, as she has said she would if his wife Alice should find out about the affair.

Kyra has had no contact with the family since she walked out, not with the children his daughter whom we never see nor his son Edward (Matthew Beard) who comes to visit her on this winter evening. She is living in a council flat in Kensal Rise with almost no heating in the British winter.

Kyra and Edward are closer in age than Kyra and Tom. She met Tom and Alice when she was 18 and asked for a job as a waitress in his restaurant in Chelsea and a family crisis saw Kyra running the business that evening.

The skylight of the title describes the window that Tom has built at Alice's request in a house for his wife in Wimbledon. His wife is dying of cancer and she asks for this window where she can watch the birds flying by and the clouds and the trees. The irony of the title is that Alice is requesting that she can see everything after being so blind to the affair that was happening in her own house between her husband and Kyra.

Bill Nighy's character Tom is probably the most interesting. He paces the stage, an elegant figure in top coat and suit, kicking and straightening piles of school books and furniture in a display of hyper-activity. He is witty and immensely attractive. He recoils in disgust at Kyra's small lump of old, but not aged, Parmesan cheese and offers to send his chauffeur to get some decent cheese. This sparks an argument as Kyra realizes he has kept his driver waiting hours in the cold. It is easy to see how attractive he is to a much younger girl. He ends up eating his version of humble pie when he meekly starts grating her Parmesan cheese.

Hanging over this play is the presence of Alice, dead a year from cancer. Tom has tried to show remorse by building her the house she wanted but the roses he sends her, as he did when they first met, just hurt Alice as they remind her how he once loved her.

Mulligan's Kyra too is not without contradiction. As bizarrely she decided to stop the affair only when Alice found out and Tom's carelessness in Alice finding out leads us to ask questions about whether, at some level, he wanted her to know. Kyra is stubborn and proud and much of the humour comes from Tom's analysis of the state she finds herself in — for instance, in travelling for hours by bus to get from North West London to the East of London to teach in a school for deprived kids in East Ham.

Bob Crowley's thoughtful set is perfect, a flat in a block looking out of its neighbours, the windows across the way lighting and darkening, the snow falling, the trees bare, people approaching on the walkways. Inside the flat the inner walls can be taken away to give the illusion of space as the closed in flat becomes open plan. Piano music opens the play to set the scene and we can hear birdsong and London traffic.

Hare's play has many layers of right and wrong to keep you debating and thinking about it. Nighy's rangy handsome man is also petulant and childlike in his selfish demands. Edward the son opens and closes the action of the play. He has come to find out why, after living with his family for years, Kyra left so suddenly and without saying anything but the final scene brings some joy back into their lives. I found the First Act optimistic and hopeful of reconciliation, romantic even, but that changes in Act Two to leave a feeling of bitterness.

Don't miss Stephen Daldry's brilliant production of Skylight and Bill Nighy's stand out performance which is sure to get him best actor nominations and of course best director for Daldry.

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Written by David Hare
Directed by Stephen Daldry

Starring: Bill Nighy, Carey Mulligan, Matthew Beard
Designer: Bob Crowley
Lighting: Natasha Katz
Sound: Paul Arditti
Composer: Paul Englishby
Running time: Two hours 15 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 0844 482 5120
Booking to 23rd August 2014
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 21st June 2014 matinee performance at Wyndham's , Charing Cross Road London WC2H 0DA (Tube: Leicester Square)
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