Splendour in a Hare shirt; THEATRE
Skylight National Theatre, London
Saturday 06 May 1995
Bringing to an end three years of estrangement, Tom (Michael Gambon), rich restaurateur and Eighties man incarnate, arrives without warning at the run-down, bitterly cold North London flat of his former lover, Kyra (Lia Williams). Once on his payroll, now a born-again idealistic teacher in East Ham, she had walked out of their six-year affair when Tom's wife, who had been a second mother to her, found out about it. The wife has since died of cancer and Tom, a mass of unresolved guilt and grief, has tracked Kyra down for some overdue emotional stocktaking.
After the sweeping panorama of public life in Hare's recent trilogy about British institutions, Skylight, a three-hander played on one set, might seem like a switch to a more domestic scale. Such appearances prove deceptive, though, for the drama gradually turns into an acute study of a relationship in which private passion and political persuasion simply cannot be extricated and in which the difference between loving people in general and loving one person is explored with a particular painfulness.
What makes the play and Richard Eyre's excellent production such a taut, involving experience are the ambiguities and ironies that keep re-directing the flow of audience sympathy and stop the couple's verbal tussling from becoming a one-sided contest. Kyra has what one might call the "Hare shirt" role: she is one of this dramatist's self-sacrificing idealists. She delivers some blistering speeches against the right-wing scapegoating of teachers who are left to clean up other people's mess.
Of course, it suits Tom to dismiss her new career as essentially a conscience- salving, self-punishing flight from him. But Lia Williams's wonderful Kyra, so genuinely aglow when she recalls their times together, displays a subtly smug and unreal-seeming convert's zeal when she rhapsodises about teaching children at the bottom of the heap. She looks, at times, like someone lonely and cold who has had to huddle herself defiantly in a blanket of rectitude. With great skill, she keeps you guessing to what extent her laudable new mission is, like her preference for adulterous love, the rationalisation of an inability to commit to one person.
The play encourages the same ambivalence over Michael Gambon's superb Tom: he's a crass, sexist nouveau, but you can't deny either the scornful acuteness of his bullshit detection (bereavement counselling on the rates etc) or the piercingness of his wounded love for Kyra. While the eponymous skylight, which he built for his bed-ridden dying wife, may epitomise a belief that money can purchase everything, salvation, forgiveness and happiness included, Tom has clearly suffered the anguish of discovering this is untrue. For emotional density and depths, this is the best thing Hare has written since Racing Demon.
n In rep at the Cottesloe, London SE1 (Box-office: 0171-928 2252)
Game of Thrones
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 If you're not already angry about the migrant crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
- 2 David De Gea: Manchester United goalkeeper's £29m move to Real Madrid off - because paperwork 'not done in time'
- 3 Pansexual: What is it - and when did the term gain popularity?
- 4 A Chinese journalist has appeared on state television 'confessing' to causing the stock market chaos
- 5 Blood Moon and Supermoon: September to bring brightest – and dimmest – full Moon of the year on same night
X Factor hopeful Mason Noise: 'How is Cheryl Fernandez-Versini in the music business, let alone a judge on the show?'
Wes Craven dead: Why Johnny Depp owes his career to director’s 13-year-old daughter
Trevor Noah, Edinburgh Fringe review: New Daily Show host warms up in inspired style
VMAs 2015: You can already buy ‘Kanye West for president’ t-shirts
VMAs 2015: Taylor Swift and her buddy Kendrick Lamar clean-up at awards - full list of winners
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
Tony Blair attacks Jeremy Corbyn's 'Alice In Wonderland' politics
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up
Iain Duncan Smith 'should resign over disability benefit death figures', says Jeremy Corbyn
UN investigating British Government over human rights abuses caused by IDS welfare reforms