It was a strange night at the theatre last night. At the end of the play – Skylight at the Wyndham’s – the whole audience rose and gave a standing ovation. I’ve only ever seen this once before for a stage play. It’s a tribute to the on stage acting team and the offstage production team, but mainly it’s a tribute for Bill Nighy (Tom Sergeant) and his truly virtuoso performance. He lifts and fills the stage and is so at one with the part and the script that it’s as if he’s knitted into the script by software technicians. William Conacher has done a marvellous job as the voice and dialect coach. His previous work with Stephen Daldry has meshed and the style, rhythm, balance and humour of the characters come through beautifully in their voice and speech – especially in the character of Kyra, who is wonderfully portrayed by Carey Mulligan. My friend said she has the qualities of a young Katherine Hepburn.
A couple of weeks ago I watched the streamed film of Skylight at the Broadway cinema in Nottingham. It caught the detail and the actors’ faces close up. In this respect the intimate inter-action of the characters of Kyra Hollis and Tom Sergeant (Carey Mulligan and Bill Nighy) was better than on stage.
David Hare gave an interview before the film. His pleasure at this production of his play beamed through. He said the director Stephen Daldry is our best living director – praise indeed from one of our two best living playwrights. Skylight was first shown in 1996, but seems to be contemporary, with the exception of hindsight. Our rush towards entrepreneurial celebrity is huge in 2014 and our public sector workers are still deemed to be of less value than the people who make money for a living. The distinction between the driven businessman entrepreneur and the committed humanitarian teacher is now as great as it was then, but the likelihood of the character of Kyra remaining as she did in such a teaching job for three years is remote. David Hare’s genius is in his understanding of what lies behind labels. We may call it – academia, business, politics, public sector, performance – underneath it all, we are shaped by our desire to satisfy our basic human emotional needs and we ignore them at our peril.