Skylight, Loft Theatre, Leamington, until February 2
Play or debate? Skylight blends both elements in an extraordinary blast of theatrical ingenuity.
David Hare’s drama weaves a complex pattern of politics and passion but at no stage loses its grip on mid-1990s issues of the heart. The debate side covers the fact that in a cast of three there are never more than two on stage at a time.
The emotional aspect arises from an intense and sometimes brutal analysis of a long-term relationship seeking revival.
Director Sue Moore has boldly undertaken the challenge of making such a demanding piece come to life in terms of anger, wit and laughter in a dismal London apartment. This is stunningly achieved by two of the most powerful and committed performances to grace a Midlands stage.
Julie-Ann Randell and Mark Crossley (pictured above) breathe unremitting life into the ex-lovers who are temporarily reunited through the older man’s quest to recapture the lost flame with a younger woman. Their situation has become ironically reversed, Tom the capitalist who came up from nothing, Kyra deliberately opting out of a comfortable lifestyle for a slum-like existence.
The remarkable chemistry achieved between the two players brings it all cuttingly into force, earmarking the guilt engendered on both characters by their betrayal of his late wife and the tearing-apart of their latter-day reunion.
This is neatly book-ended with appearances by the man’s teenage son, played with sensitivity and subtle changes of mood by Ed Statham.
Politically, the play sounds dated, with Tom’s bullying disbelief of Kyra’s chosen path and her overt anger at the plight of the cash-strapped school where she works and the under-valued roles of teachers and social workers.
But it is essentially a period piece, a fact brilliantly accentuated by Richard Moore’s set design with its rundown winter interior and block of flats background.
But all is far from unrelieved gloom. There are funny lines to savour, to say nothing of Ms Randell’s ability to chop vegetables while conversing and preparing a hot meal.
This is intense, commanding theatre at a remarkably high level.
John Goodman writes:
This is a beautifully surefooted production of a celebrated three-hander.
His wife recently dead, successful restaurateur Tom seeks out Kyra, his ex-lover, ex employee (and ex-sharer of the family house until Tom’s wife found out what was going on), now living in a small north London flat, to, well what – rekindle the relationship? Settle scores? Dissect what went wrong? All of the above probably.
Tom has continued his glitzy privileged, self-protected life, among what Kyra calls the shits and shafters, to the extent that he has a driver. Kyra has launched herself into teaching in an East End school full of hard children, desperately looking for that one pupil with a spark who can justify all her idealistic self-punishment. Edward, Tom’s son, wants to be reconciled with his father.
Kyra and Tom have made choices which the other disapproves of, finds hard to comprehend and tries to change. It’s gripping to witness the two of them try to unpeel each other’s past and challenge each other’s motives - resisting, defending, justifying, only half listening. Our sympathies are with them both, but also our irritation.
The physical attraction is still there. Love too, but the class and attitudinal chasm is too wide and deep for it to survive. If there’s a redemptive touch it comes from Edward who does listen and in a glorious last scene coup de théâtre shows us the young as a source of hope, but also hints, with the help of a single red rose, that maybe life is an endless, albeit occasionally joyful, circularity.
Julie-Ann Randell as Kyra, Mark Crossley as Tom and Ed Statham as Edward completely inhabit their parts, apparently unfazed by treading in the footsteps of Michael Gambon, Lia Williams, Bill Nighy and Carey Mulligan. All three convey both the strength and vulnerability of their characters that make this such a fully realised production.
Despite the Oasis soundtrack, the pitch-perfect set with its dial phones and tower block backdrop, and the script’s reference to Yellow Pages (look it up, kids), this could be the today of Brexit. A quarter of a century after the play was written, over half of that time under Labour governments (Tony Blair had just become leader of the Labour Party when the play was premiered) we’re an even more fragmented, unequal and mutually uncomprehending society.
In a 1996 Playbill interview Michael Gambon (Tom in the first production) guesses Tom and Kyra would get back together in a sequel. I doubt it, but go along to this fine production and see what you think.