Bill Nighy & Carey Mulligan in "Skylight"
It’s a bitterly frigid night in London when 30-ish urban schoolteacher Kyra Hollis (Carey Mulligan) receives, unexpectedly, a visitor to her run-down under-heated flat, her former older flame of six years, Tom Sergeant (Bill Nighy), a charismatically successful restaurateur…and he’s not the first visitor of the night. It has been three years since Tom and Kyra have seen one another, and she quickly learns that his wife has died within the past year. As the evening progresses, they make halting attempts at rekindling their prior relationship and its passion, but discover themselves engaged in a battle between their contrasting ideologies and mutual attraction. This is the set-up for the National Theatre’s revival of the 1995 play by David Hare (“Racing Demon”), which was nominated for several Tonys (including Best Play) when it was brought to Broadway back in 1996. This version shows why it was so successful then and now. On the surface a tale of two almost-reunited lovers, what’s on offer here is more a morality play on the wide gulf between the haves and have-nots, fears and longings, and the need in our lives for some level of balance and equanimity.
In this production, directed by Stephen Daldry (“Billy Elliot”), Mulligan is riveting, and Nighy is well nigh perfect. Nighy’s is the showier role especially in the first act, with his nonstop stream of unconsciousness; but it’s Mulligan who slowly but surely peels away her character’s protective layers until there’s not much left hidden. Together, they’re an amazingly effective duo. The only other cast member, Matthew Beard (as Tom’s son Edward) appears briefly but to great effect. What’s amazing is how sadly relevant all this class angst is even in these post-Thatcher, post-Reagan years. One can’t get more specific about the verbal clashes without revealing too much of what the prolific playwright (this is his 29th play) deals out discriminatingly as the plot evolves. Suffice it to say that it’s a complicated ride, aided and abetted by the cleverly crafted Set Design by Bob Crowley, as well as the Lighting Design by Natasha Katz, realistic Sound Design by Paul Arditti, Costume Supervision by Irene Bohan, and Music Composition by Paul Englishby.
In the developing tradition of selective broadcasts of outstanding theatrical events from the National Theatre, this is yet another winner (also headed for Broadway). Its three performers would seem at this point to be virtual shoe-ins for Tony nominations this season, as are the play and its director. And if you missed its first showing, never fear. It encores Nov.20th at a theater near you