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Review: Skylight by David Hare

Following on from Condoms in the Shop, our latest village development is Lurkers in the Hedge.

On Friday, one of our neighbours was out walking his dog, when it suddenly started going mad at something in a hedge.  My neighbour went to have a closer look, and was startled to find a stranger staring back at him wearing full camouflage gear.

It turned out that there were three of these surveillance people stationed at various points on a corner in the village.

The nursery was understandably not very happy about the man in the car loitering outside, so they called the police, as did the people whose hedge was being used as camouflage. The police came out and questioned the watchers, but they were bona fide PIs, so there was nothing they could do, except tell them that they weren’t actually allowed into people’s hedges as part of their activities.

This was all the talk of the town village on Saturday morning in the shop, as was the fact that all our Year 10s had gone to Berlin on a history trip, and how much we missed them.

They came back this afternoon and they all looked exhausted, including the teachers.  I did think, as I dropped LD off on Thursday morning for a 5am start on a coach, how boundless my admiration for teachers was as they took 60 fifteen year olds across the Continent for four days, right at the end of term, into thirty degree heat.  I especially thought this as I got back home, my head touched the pillow, and I went back to sleep.

It was still on my mind in the evening, when I went to see a broadcast of Skylight, a play by David Hare about a teacher, Kyra Hollis, and her ex-lover, restaurateur Tom Sergeant.

Tom’s wife has recently died and he is finding it difficult to come to terms with her loss.  He comes back to see Kyra, with whom the couple had a strange triangular relationship, which started many years ago when Kyra came to work in one of their restaurants as an eighteen year old.

Kyra has a strong sense of the worthy in her life, while Tom is driven by the success of his businesses and the worth of entrepreneurship.  The two argue politically, and go back over their personal failures.  For two hours!  And you don’t even notice because it’s fascinating.

Bill Nighy as Tom does his typical Bill Nighy thing – all arrogance and vulnerability and very, very funny  I was surprised by how good Carey Mulligan as Kyra was – she is brittle, matter of fact, using humour as a defence, through which sudden intense emotion strains to and occasionally breaks through.

I found it distracting that Bill Nighy is massively older than Carey Mulligan.  The chronologies mean that Carey Mulligan is about the right age for Kyra, but Bill Nighy, reprising the role he played on stage 18 years ago, is too old.  They were engaging with each other, but I couldn’t feel any chemistry between them as a couple at all.  However, it’s difficult to think of someone who could have played the role to the same effect, with just the right nervous energy to convince.

Kyra had some fantastic speeches and lines about the way in which public sector workers are treated. The best of these was an angry, impassioned speech near the end in which she denounced politicians and journalists who sit around and talk about how the jobs of teachers and social workers should be done – well why don’t they “fucking go out and do it?” (or words to that effect.)  There was a big round applause from the on-screen audience for that.

What made the play balanced and therefore interesting was Tom’s questioning of Kyra’s motives.  Why has she chosen to replace warm, personal relationships with the massive, impersonal needs of endless groups of students?

This line of questioning also led to the funniest moments in the play.  Firstly when Tom points out that the tower block in which Kyra lives is miles and miles away from the run down area in which she teaches: “Living in one shithole, working in another, and spending all day travelling between the two,” is how he puts it, to a massive laugh from the audience (including me).

The other involves Kyra’s one-bar electric heater.  It’s a freezing cold night in December, an atmosphere beautifully evoked by the “transparent” set, and Kyra doesn’t have central heating.  After having borne the cold all night and into the morning, Tom explodes with the point that, “There are heaters out there that you can buy, that will actually heat!  And they’re not expensive, but oh no, that’s not good enough for you!”  Never has the spirit of the Argos catalogue been invoked to such dramatic effect; he’s totally right about it being only symbolically there for heat, as well as being a symbol for her suffering.

This was a great play to highlight the work of teachers and social workers, without being too worthy.  I also thought it gave an accurate insight regarding the real motive of teachers.  It’s not so much the great big mass of people who are coming through the system.  It’s to do with finding just that one who has a spark, whose life is changed by you being there.

Skylight is still on at the Wyndhams until 23rd August.

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8 Comments

  1. Oh I’ve wanted to see this ever since I read about it. Both BN and CM are my favourites. I look forward to CM’s upcoming films Far From the Madding Crowd and Sufferagette. Your fine review here reminds me of a British film The Girl In the Cafe. Have you seen it? In case you’re interested, here’s my review.

  2. I love your reviews, Denise! And to tie it in with the teachers’ basically thankless job of schlepping those kids across the Continent!!!! Your own child in tow!

    I also loved your writing about the hedge hiders! Crossing boundaries to say the least!

  3. In my opinion, theater in England, acting in England, is just SO superior, in general to what passes for acting here. The training is so much more rigorous, and the profession attracts more gifted and intelligent people. Your review says a lot about why this is so — the audience is much more discerning.

    In your opinion, are people free to have their own opinions in England? Or do they feel compelled to echo whatever the New York Times, Oprah and Dr. Oz say?

    I’m stopping by a few of my favorite blogs this week to let my blogging-friends know that I’m having to pull-back from the time I spend blogging (my husband insists, for my health, because I’m deeply involved in some writing and publishing projects). I’ll be posting less frequently, and commenting less frequently, and not doing anything at all to boost readership or hits. But I want you to know that I often think of you, wondering how you’re doing, so there’s no way I can stop reading your blog. You might find a “like” instead of a comment sometimes. But I’m not abandoning you! You’re in my thoughts and prayers. ❤

  4. Great review Denise. I miss theatre. Plays can be so much more thought provoking and artistically pleasing than a lot of TV and film…

  5. I love Bill Nighy and would love to see this play. Not sure if we will get down there before it ends though…still, I enjoyed reading your review of the play, you do make me laugh with your great comments Denise! As for the men lurking in hedges, did you ever find out what that was all about? Sounds intriguing. You just never know what goes on in an English village do you?

    • Some of the villagers were really freaked out, but my friend and I reasoned that if it were really serious crime, the police would have been involved. It’s got to be benefit fraud or an affair, we thought!

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