Splendour in a Hare shirt; THEATRE

Skylight National Theatre, London

"My chairman keeps telling me: never look back," remarks Tom, the entrepreneur protagonist of Skylight. "In business, he says, the world was created this morning. There's no such thing as the past." David Hare's splendid new play demonstrates that in affairs of the heart, the past is not so easily discounted.

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)

Paul Taylor

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'