David Hare’s Skylight is a powerfully visceral and thought-provoking play which deals with the tumultuous relationship between a teacher from East London, Kyra, and her ex-lover/employer, Tom, three years after their relationship came to an abrupt halt. The action unfolds over a single night, beginning and ending with the arrival of Tom’s eighteen-year-old son, Edward. The core of the piece is Tom’s presence in Kyra’s flat – an intense period where the two wounded souls encounter moments of tender honesty, raging arguments, and passionate outpourings of self-justification. Both a cutting social commentary and a tragic love story, Skylight requires an intimate set up, with performances that can sustain such emotive turmoil throughout. LTC’s production delivers just that.
Using Cafédral as the location for this play initially filled me with scepticism- the quirky lighting and shabby-chic feel seem far removed from the dingy flat we’re supposed to witness, but the image is painted vividly through the dynamic use of space and how the writing carries the imagination beyond a café kitchen counter. The tech team do a good job with a restricted venue, dealing with the area effectively. Warm lighting bathes the set, the darkness outside casting it perfectly for the snowy winter night we are transported to. A truly masterful feat of multi-tasking for the actors is when spaghetti bolognaise is cooked all through the second scene, the smell permeating the air like a sensory manifestation of the dense emotional atmosphere. In many ways, the pot of pasta mirrors the simmering relationship being exposed to the audience. Bubbling, steaming, boiling over, inviting you in. Indeed, the action is perhaps too close for comfort when tea and books are flung over the stage and practically into the audience. I wouldn’t recommend sitting on the front row or arriving with an empty stomach. That aside, the direction on the whole is brilliant. Tom and Kyra’s intimacy over the cooking goes on to be contrasted with their division at either end of the room. In the final exposition of their relationship, Tom and Kyra are sat at opposite ends of the kitchen table, representing the impenetrable gulf now existing between two people who can no longer love as they once did. A red tie connects their hands briefly before Tom leaves, breaking apart all too soon. It is a play overflowing with well-crafted symbolism, artfully approached by the production team.
The acting too, is excellent. Sarah Cameron’s Kyra is enormously expressive- with a look from under her eyelashes, a cutting sarcastic remark, a pointed finger, she captivates the audience. The depth of emotion she elicits for the burnt-out remnants of this relationship is truly something, and we see her scarred heart torn open more viciously than before as Tom plunges her into turmoil. Jack Whitmore does an exemplary job of embodying a middle aged, self-made man, whose decorum falters in the presence of his biggest failure. The business tactics he applies to his restaurant empire don’t work with Kyra, and never could. Grief for the wife he lost a year ago, and distress at where it has left him, regularly give way to crassness and a narrow-minded approach to Kyra’s way of life. Both are flawed characters, and both provoke invested empathy at various points in the performance.
There are some comic moments – Tom mansplaining how to cook chilli as one example – though I got a sense that more lines should have been comical and weren’t delivered as such, keeping the performance at its most raw. Whitmore, at times, recovers too quickly from his tears, just as Kyra regains her control moments after flinging down the cutlery. Or this could simply be a stylistic choice through which to demonstrate the volatility of this strained attachment. The second half experienced a lull before the ensuing storm- in the sustained heat, a few stumbles, but nothing to detract or distract from the powerful dialogue. The actors coped well with occasional background noise from outside. The ending may not be unexpected, but it is drawn out further to show the continuation of life. Time is linear and things go on beyond the last line. Kishore Thiagarajan-Walker as Edward is likeable and keeps the conversation far more natural than the elongated, stylised tirades at the centre of the play. His angered ranting at the start sets the tone well for what comes after. He succeeds in lightening the mood at the natural close of the piece, though occasionally reaches too deep into the verisimilitude.
Overall, this production of Skylight is saturated with the full spectrum of emotion that protrudes from a broken heart. Devotion, anguish, and the passage of time itself, are notions left echoing in the audience’s minds. It truly fulfils the meaning behind its namesake- a skylight shines down, illuminating the bigger picture. Nothing can hide from it- there are no shadows to take refuge in. This play is set in the shadows and taken into the light adeptly by all involved in bringing the narrative to life.
Lion Theatre Company’s Skylight is on 15th-17th February at 7:30pm in Cafédral.