‘Skylight’ at The Golden Theatre in New York City

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For those of you who love live theatre enough to cherish the teamwork of two major acting talents, Skylight by David Hare should motivate you to book yourself a seat this spring, for the run is limited and the play will close in late June. Another reason to move quickly is Hare’s language — only Tom Stoppard among his present colleagues uses language with his facility, and I find Hare’s words more accessible than Stoppard’s. Skylight is not a major work however, and when stripped of its language and its star power, it’s just another of those two-handers (there is a third character, played by Matthew Beard, but he’s peripheral and appears only to open and close the story) about the search for love among two oddly matched lovers. In that sense it joins the genre that includes The Voice of the Turtle, The Gin Game, The Fourposter and dozens of others. Hare’s use of language, the words and thoughts he puts into the mouths of his two principal characters, elevate the material somewhat, for these are a very well-drawn middle aged and successful entrepreneur called Tom Sergeant and his ex-mistress, a charming and fiercely independent younger woman called Kyra Hollis.

Bill Nighy (Tom Sergeant) and Carey Mulligan (Kyra Hollis). Photo by John Haynes.
Bill Nighy (Tom Sergeant) and Carey Mulligan (Kyra Hollis). Photo by John Haynes.

These two vivid characters had a long term affair that’s been over f or three years as the play begins. Sergeant’s estranged son drops in on Hollis at her Council House London flat to warn her that his father is planning to see her, now that his mother has finally succumbed to the cancer with which she was suffering even during the time of the affair. Since she walked out on Sergeant three years ago, Hollis has grieved over her loss of him, worked through that, and is now settled in a job as teacher to underprivileged children, perfectly content with her “little life” with all its deprivations. Sergeant does indeed arrive, and for the next two hours he presents every argument he can come up with trying to persuade Kyra Hollis to return as his lover, and more. He wants now to marry her.

Carey Mulligan. Photo by John Haynes.
Carey Mulligan. Photo by John Haynes.

Carey Mulligan is a film star from Britain who was seen on Broadway as “Nina” in The Seagull in 2008 and she followed it with a slew of movies including An Education for which she had major nominations and awards as well. In the immediate days ahead her latest film, Far From The Madding Crowd will  be released. Mulligan’s work in Skylight is spectacular and in watching her work with her co-star Bill Nighy one is reminded of the polish and spit that informed the best work of other established duos, couples like Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn and in this day and age Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane in their early works together.

Matthew Beard (Edward). Photo by John Haynes.
Matthew Beard (Edward). Photo by John Haynes.

What’s interesting here is that this couple seems so unsuited to each other, yet their feelings run deep and are vividly displayed throughout the evening. Mr. Nighy’s approach to his character is very different than was that of Michael Gambon, who created the role in 1996. Nighy plays him as a tightly wound neurotic, a dominating successful business tycoon (he owns a chain of successful restaurants) whose son is a thorn in his side because of their differences about just about everything. He is the one who, in telling his ill wife about their affair, drove his mistress away, and in the three years since, he has come to know how desperately important she is to his happiness, and he’s come to claim her, or at least to make an ardent pitch for her return. Hare has given both characters powerful weapons — words that pour from them, cascading over the stage apron into the audience where they make us laugh out loud as well as cringe at the brute force with which some of the angrier arguments are tossed. I don’t think many would root for the man in this battle of the sexes, but Mr. Nighy’s performance makes that even more unlikely. At one point, when Ms. Mulligan’s “Kyra” hurled a tirade back at him, her performance and the argument behind it were so powerful that the audience gave her a round of applause. Unheard of, at least since the days of melodrama on a Show Boat.

Bill Nighy. Photo by John Haynes.
Bill Nighy. Photo by John Haynes.

Mr. Nighy’s performance is controversial. He has filled it with tics, constant hand motions, overblown facial maneuverings, and tremendous vocal acrobatics ranging from sotto voce to hissy fits, a man accustomed to having his own way, one who is enraged at rejection. Of course there are people like that — I don’t think many would want to know them —   but they do exist and I found Nighy’s  work arresting and honest. Mr. Hare is clearly on Kyra’s side, and her decision about the direction her future life will take is satisfying to us,  and makes the evening more rewarding because of it.

At a length of over two hours, Skylight could use some pruning, but David Hare had a lot to get off his chest about the nature of love, what it means, how it nurtures, how much pain it causes, and he found two vivid characters through whom he could preach to us. Then he found two actors to give us a glimpse of what actors can bring to the playwright’s words that enrich and assist them to hit home.

Skylight is a corking good show that Director Stephen Daldry has staged with his usual understanding and insight.

Skylight plays through June 21, 2015 at the John Golden Theatre-252 West 45th Street, in New York, NY. For tickets, visit the box office, or purchase them online.


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Richard Seff
RICHARD SEFF has been working in theatre since he made his acting debut in support of Claude Rains in the prize winning DARKNESS AT NOON, and he agreed to tour the next season in support of Edward G. Robinson, which took him across the nation and back for nine months. When it was over and he was immediately offered another national tour with THE SHRIKE with Van Heflin, he decided to explore other areas, and he spent the next 22 years representing artists in the theatre as an agent, where he worked at Liebling-Wood, MCA, eventually a partnership of his own called Hesseltine-Bookman and Seff, where he discovered and developed young talents like Chita Rivera, John Kander, Fred Ebb, Ron Field, Linda Lavin, Nancy Dussault and many others. He ultimately sold his interest to ICM. When he completed his contractual obligation to that international agency, he returned to his first love, acting and writing for the theatre. In that phase of his long and varied life, he wrote a comedy (PARIS IS OUT!) which brightened the 1970 season on Broadway for 107 performances. He became a successful supporting player in film, tv and onstage, and ultimately wrote a book about his journey, SUPPORTING PLAYER: MY LIFE UPON THE WICKED STAGE, still popular with older theatre lovers and youngsters who may not yet know exactly where they will most sensibly and profitably fit into the world of show business. The book chronicles a life of joyous work working in a favored profession in many areas, including leading roles in the regional theatres in his work in Lanford Wilson's ANGELS FALL. His last stage role was in THE COUNTESS in which he played Mr. Ruskin for 9 months off Broadway. Five seasons ago Joel Markowitz suggested he join him at DCTheatreScene. His accurate and readable reviews of the New York Scene led, when the time was right, for his joining DCMetroTheaterArts to continue bringing news of the Big Apple's productions just to keep you posted. He is delighted to be able to join DCMTA and work with Joel and hopes that you like what he has to say.