A richly layered, superbly written, intelligent script, powerhouse performances and highly creative set design are the hallmarks of MTC’s latest production. Skylight is mesmerising, taut and tense throughout, twisting one way and then the other, based upon the utterings of the characters, complete with liberal dollops of good humour. Helpmann Award-winner Dean Bryant returns to MTC to direct David Hare’s contemporary classic, which claimed the Olivier Award for Best New Play in 1996 and the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play in 2015.
Kyra Hollis is an idealistic teacher, who works with the most difficult children, trying to improve their lot in life. But it wasn’t always that way. As an 18-year-old, she went to work and live with Tom Sergeant and his wife, Alice. Tom was, at the time, building a portfolio of restaurants and he and Kyra fell deeply and passionately in love. A six-year affair ensued until one day it suddenly ended. Now, a further three years have passed, and Kyra has moved on with her life, living in a bitterly cold apartment with no central heating, in not exactly the best neighbourhood.
Tom, on the other hand, has enriched his wealth and continues to employ, among others, a limousine driver. He and his son, Edward, don’t see eye to eye. A year earlier Alice died and after an almighty row the other night, Edward walked out of the posh home in Wimbledon he shares with his father. Now Edward turns up on Kyra’s doorstep wanting to know what went wrong between her and his father. You see, Kyra was a big part of the impressionable teen’s life as well of that of his father and mother, and then she was no more. Not long after Edward’s unheralded call on Kyra ends, Tom also pays her a surprise visit. It is the first time the pair have “had it out” since Kyra unexpectedly up and left and the acute pain of her departure is revealed, from both sides.
While trawling over old ground, Kyra and Tom also determine whether there is a way forward for them that could involve one another. But his holier than thou attitude and her insistence that she is doing something worthwhile and meaningful with her life suggests any meeting of minds will be hard fought. Can their relationship be rekindled while their preconceived notions of one another remain so tightly held?
The admiration I have for Brit David Hare writing such white-hot material knows no bounds. As a wordsmith of sorts myself, it is a revelation. But verbiage alone – and I assure you there is a great deal of that crammed into just under 2½ hours including interval – does not a great theatrical experience make.
That also takes highly accomplished actors who can work with nuance and expression and so it is with Anna Samson as Kyra, Colin Friels as Tom and Toby Wallace as his son, Edward. Each is magnificent in her or his own right, laying their characters’ feelings bare without a hint of pretense. Heady stuff, indeed!
Direction from Bryant is sharp and assured. The massive set incorporates a five storey rundown block of apartments complete with entrance and hallway, making an immediate and highly favourable audience impression. Broken windows and graffiti are apparent on the upper floors, but in the unit in which Kyra lives a full kitchen/laundry opens out into a small living room. Nothing posh here – a few low rise bookshelves, a small table with a couple of wooden chairs, a further padded chair over which is draped a throw and little else worthy of mention. Dare I say, it is a grand design befitting the action and the genius of set and costume designer Dale Ferguson is apparent.
Skylight bites and bites hard, giving us much food for thought (both literal – as Kyra cooks a delicious smelling spaghetti meal during the course of proceedings – and figurative). It is a triumph of the highest order. It is playing at Southbank Theatre, The Sumner until 23rd July.
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television