Theater Review: ‘Skylight’

When love may not be enough
April 20, 2015 Last Updated: April 23, 2015

NEW YORK—The barriers people surround themselves with in an attempt to hide from the truth or avoid feeling too much can be terribly sad. Case in point: the two main characters in David Hare’s “Skylight,” who are trapped in a loneliness of their own making. Directed by Stephen Daldry, this intimate drama is now at Broadway’s Golden Theatre.

In a Northwest London apartment complex in the early 1990s, Kyra (Carey Mulligan), who works as a schoolteacher of inner city children, lives alone in a somewhat less fashionable area of town. One night as she’s settling in with a bath to run and a pile of papers to grade, she’s visited by her former lover Tom (Bill Nighy), a successful restaurateur who recently marked the first anniversary of his wife’s death and is now looking to rekindle his relationship with Kyra.

Any ideas of happily ever after are threatened by the past.
Kyra first met Tom and his late wife when she was an 18-year-old girl working in one of their restaurants. Through various circumstances, Kyra became part of their family, living with them, becoming a nanny of sorts to their children, learning the restaurant business, and falling in love with Tom. Then, three years ago, Kyra abruptly left Tom’s family.

Her departure cast a cloud over the entire household and left questions Tom’s estranged son, Edward (Matthew Beard), is still trying to answer.

Edward (Matthew Beard), Tom's son, also misses Kyra, and has reentered her life. (John Haynes)
Edward (Matthew Beard), Tom’s son, also misses Kyra and has re-entered her life. (John Haynes)

As Kyra and Tom verbally spar with each other while dancing around the circumstances that caused Kyra to leave, it is apparent each still has a deep affection for the other. However, any ideas of happily ever after are threatened by the past and the unwillingness of either to move forward on the other’s terms.

Initially one gets the impression of a conservative older man involved with a younger idealistic woman. However, that image is quickly whipped away.

Kyra gives an impassioned speech on the importance of finding just one child among those she teaches, a child who has a chance of becoming something more, and helping that child achieve it. Yet we clearly see that she has settled for far less than she is capable.

She has a deep-seated desire to make people happy and a need to avoid confrontation. One of the reasons she has ended up in her current living situation, even though it’s not at all convenient for her, is a result of the former; with the latter figuring into her abrupt flight from Tom three years earlier.

Tom, on the other hand, initially comes off as someone with all the answers, perhaps a bit too sure of himself and quite politically incorrect. He thinks the idea of listening to a woman is just a ploy to get her into bed. This attitude enables him to put his own needs before anyone else’s.

Yet he’s far more open to change than Kyra. While the change doesn’t always have to be on his own terms, he is prone to force the issue when Kyra doesn’t agree with him. This leads to perhaps the major problem between the two, that being a lack of trust.

Nighy does a tour de force turn as Tom.
Like Kyra, Tom is loath to admit his past failures and unhappiness, and, also like her, must be forced to do so almost kicking and screaming. (A psychoanalyst would have a field day with these two, who are so alike in so many ways. Though as any therapist or counselor would note, before real change can happen, one has to first be ready to change from within.)

Nighy does a tour de force turn as Tom, someone always ready with a quip or comment—such as one concerning the state of a piece of cheese in Kyra’s refrigerator. His actions suddenly change the tone of the scene from light to dark and back again.

The actor also does a bravura job with pregnant pauses and gestures, all of which say volumes about who this man is.

Mulligan is very good as Kyra, a woman who has chosen to hide from life in one of the least hospitable environments around: She was spat upon on her first day at work.

Not only is she avoiding her history with Tom, she’s literally sealed herself in her apartment, refusing to have a television or read a newspaper. Instead she prefers to read books and listen to people around her while riding the bus. As Tom quite correctly points out, she can always get off the bus whenever those conversations get too serious.

Beard is fine as Edward, now an 18-year-old man. His unexpected appearances at Kyra’s apartment offer her an unexpected chance to reconnect with the world in a way she hasn’t done in a very long time—via her own special skylight as it were—a skylight to let a bit of the outside world in.

As a heartbreaking tale about the bonds and barriers that come with love and intimacy, “Skylight” is definitely worth a look.

‘Skylight’
Golden Theatre
252 W. 45th St.
Tickets: 212-239-6200 or Telecharge.com
Running Time: 2 hours, 25 minutes (one intermission)
Closes: June 21

Judd Hollander is the New York correspondent with the London publication The Stage.