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|A CurtainUp Review
Like George Bernard Shaw, David Hare has managed to become one of England's most successful playwrights by combining drama with diatribes about society's weaknesses: upper class hypocrisy (Plenty), tabloid journalism (Pravda), the inertia of the England's chief religious institution (Racing Demons). These issue oriented plays have all had the benefit of star-driven casts. The Olivier Award winning Skylight, which recently opened at the Royale Theater, continues along the same path, with England's renowned Michael Gambon providing the star power and Richard Eyre the directorial panache. Because it differs from previous Hare plays in one major aspect it may deservedly become his biggest hits. What's different is that in Skylight the usual Hare-ian harangues grow out of the highly charged personal relationship of Tom Sergeant (Michael Gambon) and his former lover Kyra Hollis,( Lia Williams), rather than the other way around. The polemic is there despite the trappings of a star-crossed lover tale, but the two people whose love can't seem to conquer their very different outlooks are the heart of the drama.
The story unfolds in the present, in a flat in one of London's less desirable districts. Tom is a successful restaurateur. Kyra is his former mistress, (not to mention business associate, baby sitter and family friend), turned teacher in a school filled with deprived students. Their bond has been severed for three years when Tom, now a widower, explodes back into her life.. The sparks that ignite are not just their still viable passion but the long-standing differences. The result is a constant dance of moving toward each other and bursting apart on tide of bristly, prickly dialogue.
Thanks to Richard Eyre's direction and the stars' bravura performances, Tom and Kyra remain flesh and blood people you care about. Their every gesture is a visible clue to their emotional state and character. Gambon especially is a master of the unspoken nuance. His Tom's unease with displaying emotions as well as the charm and energy that propelled him to success is evident in the way he uses his hands and the way he keeps moving around the room--sometimes stalking, sometimes leaping playfully (these little leaps were engagingly repeated during the curtain call at the performance we attended).
Yes, Tom and Kyra embody the larger social conflict between idealism and pragmatism, a vital society and a stagnant one. First and foremost, however, they are two people who need each other, but can't connect, something people on both sides of the Atlantic can identify with all too easily. Audiences may leave the theater discussing some of the issues raised, but what they'll remember is an evening filled with laughter as well as compassion for two complicated individuals struggling to break down the barriers that prevent their relationship from rekindling itself into an enduring flame.
While the evening belongs, to Gambon and Williams, praise is also due to Christian Camargo as Tom's son. His typically eighteen-year-old's energetic manner reminds one of what his father must have been like and in some ways still is, raising the question: Is he really a stand-in for his dad in his final as well as opening appearance.
Finally, a word about the set. Everything seems to fill its purpose. On a realistic level there's the utilitarian kitchen and the throw blankets. Symbolically, there are the two butterfly prints and photograph of a dancer and the see-through wall which seems to echo the link between Kyra and Tom's wife's Alice who took spiritual comfort from looking out at the world through the skylight in the room Tom had built for her. The computer which except for a brief reference to Kyra's studying computer manuals seems misplaced.Unless Skylight's limited engagement is extended, this is likely to be a sold-out show, with lots of disappointed theater goers.