|photo: Sara Krulwich|
Skylight is a talky, boring play meant to comment on the perilous class divide in post-Thatcherite England. However, it really boils down to nothing more than a charismatic older man talking his way into a fragile young woman's knickers. Tale as old as time, with or without the pretense of liberal politics to make it seem more palatable. Tom Sergeant (Nighy), a successful restaurateur, shagged his former employee, Kyra Hollis (Mulligan), for six years while she lived with him and his now-deceased wife as a de facto family member. When Mrs. Sergeant discovered the affair, Kyra fled to North London, to begin a self-prescribed penance as a teacher in a slum school. When Tom turns up round her flat after three years of silence, it's not long before they are back in the roles they once inhabited, and back in bed.
And did I mention they talk? And talk. And talk. And talkkkkkkkk. About everything. Which amounts to nothing.
I've liked Mulligan in other plays. Specifically, she's likely the best Nina (in Chekhov's The Seagull) I'll ever see. Here, though, she's punching above her weight. Kyra is a mammoth role--she never leaves the stage once the play begins--and Mulligan gives the impression that she's just trying to make it through to the end of the performance, to spout Hare's reams and reams of dialogue without blowing it. No shading to her character, no conviction to her big speeches (although they receive compulsory applause anyway). A surprisingly workmanlike performance, not exciting in any way.
Nighy, on the other hand, is animated to a fault. He spins around the stage like the Tasmanian devil, a whirling dervish of energy and dexterity. He's an actor who acts, not an actor who inhabits a part. As Miss Jean Brodie once said: "For those who like that sort of thing, it is the sort of thing they like." I found it exhausting and rather empty.
A third character, Edward Sergeant (Matthew Beard), bookends the play. He's Tom's son, unaware of his father's relationship with Kyra, and he's not meant to do more than represent adolescent England in the 1990's. I suppose Beard's performance is fine, considering he's playing an idea, not a role, but the Tony nomination he received is baffling.
Also baffling is Daldry's production. For one thing, Nighy spends at least half the play with his back to the audience. If this is a directorial choice, it's an unspeakably stupid one; it's an incredible amount of a performance for the audience to miss. Mulligan and Nighy have very little natural chemistry, and Daldry does little to assuage this; we're supposed to take, on faith, that they're so magnetically drawn to each other that they jump from icy anger to passionate coitus in a split second. And too much of the play is underscored by unnecessary, atonal incidental music (by Paul Englishby).
Skylight received seven Tony nominations and will most likely take home the award for Best Revival. The production (which runs through June 21) is selling briskly and likely to recoup. The snob hit is alive and well on Broadway. And I guess even I'm not immune--I did buy a ticket, after all. But I wish I had those two hours back.
[Paid full price for second-to-last row of the mezzanine, a decision I regret]