Review: Skylight

MATT KILROY gives the ‘utterly superb cast’ credit for the success of a play ‘which is intimate and human – but it’s also… about issues and principles’.

Corpus Skylight

Tuesday 2nd – Saturday 6th, 7.00 at the Corpus Playrooms.  £5-6.

Skylight. A symbol of hope. A word suggesting that for once a beam of light might bring some joy to the shabby murk of the Corpus Playroom. And it does, if not through the play itself then through strong direction and an utterly superb cast.

The plot’s key concern is the reunion of Kyra (Kat Press) and the recently bereaved Tom (Josh Higgott), in Kyra’s desolate little London flat, some time after the end of their six-year affair. Kyra teaches disadvantaged kids, cutting herself off from her privileged upbringing; Tom is a self-made man, a wealthy restauranteur who can’t understand her needless self-sacrifice. They are complete opposites, and they argue about themselves and about love, but also about money, education, and many other topical bees which Hare has in his bonnet. Make no mistake, this is a play which is intimate and human – but it’s also a play about issues and principles. It was the Spectator’s ‘play of the decade’ in the 1990s. You have been warned.

It opens enigmatically. Tom’s strange son, Edward, played with charismatic warmth by Chris Nelson, comes to visit Kyra to ask her to help his dad. Little is explained and much is left unsaid, but we are gripped, yearning for the full back-story.

Then Tom turns up. Higgott’s exceptional performance was the kind which keeps a reviewer awake at night, weeping in inadequacy over his thesaurus until all the synonyms for ‘captivating’ dissolve under the weight of his tears. From the moment Higgott enters, dapper yet dishevelled, in a permanent state of slight bewilderment at the world, you can’t take your eyes off him. He fidgets uncomfortably, pacing as Press seeks refuge in her cooking, and whenever he draws near her their fear of each other becomes almost unbearable.Press’s brittle, poised, beautiful Kyra is permanently tense, unwilling to give anything away, though the odd glimpse of emotion breaks through her steely defences. Higgott’s lost gaze lingers on her, on her cooking, on the whiskey he’s brought with him, like a drowning man grasping for salvation. There is love, but it is buried deep beneath their pain and their differences. They cannot understand one another.

The flow of conversation is expertly managed, caressed ever onwards past eddies of tension and revelation, and it feels natural even during the clunky ideological speeches. The acting is not just on the ball, it’s off the scale – all plays have changes of pace and all plays have pauses, but here they really mean something. Every nuance, every subtlety is brought to life with consummate skill by the maturity of the professional-level performances. Their focus holds the dialogue together, since in the cramped Difficult Space™ of the Corpus Playroom there is little room for energetic physical action.

A few minor niggles emerged through the production’s material shortcomings, including a window which was, let’s face it, just a blank section of wall, necessitating an actual exit so that Kyra could ‘throw’ the keys down to Tom. Similarly, a few sizzling sound effects would have greatly increased the effectiveness of Kyra’s cooking. These may sound like the quibbles of a pedant (and they are), but the little unrealistic moments stood out glaringly because of the psychological intensity and attention to detail elsewhere.

The play itself is inconclusive. After the two characters have completely ripped apart each other’s beliefs we don’t know who to side with. Does it matter? Does their love matter? Who’s in the right? I’m not sure. Perhaps that’s the point. Still, it was definitely the brilliance of the performances which left me feeling illuminated, rather than David Hare.