By Kim Solga
Skylight, written by David Hare. Directed by Brenda Bazinet.
A Troubadour Theatre Collective production at the ARTS Project, London, On., until August 27.
David Hare’s “Skylight” opened in 1995 in the tiny Cottesloe studio at London’s National Theatre, but in many respects the play feels like it could have been written yesterday.
Kyra, one-time employee and former lover of wealthy restauranteur Tom, has lost her taste for his world and its middlebrow conservative politics; she has decamped to a poor area of North London (Kensal Rise) and landed a job in a hardscrabble school in the east end. First Edward, Tom’s son, and then Tom himself turn up at her flat one wintry evening, the former looking for an ally and the latter some forgiveness, a bit of whiskey, sex, and maybe another chance.
While Kyra cooks spaghetti on her tiny hotplate there’s reminiscing, increasing flirtation, and finally, in Hare’s bristling last act, a bullseye of a political battle about strivers vs. skivers and the fate of the 99% that could have been ripped from last weekend’s Guardian.
Kensal Rise is today a property hotspot, East Ham shadowed by the glittering aftermath of London 2012: the real estate bubbles powering contemporary global cities like London make “Skylight’s” political resonances more urgent now than ever.
Troubadour Theatre Collective’s take on the text, directed by Brenda Bazinet and running until Saturday, picks up directly on that real estate connection, siting the work inside Kyra’s flat (a third-floor studio above The ARTS Project) as the sun sinks to the West and the evening heats up. Hare’s script calls for fourth-wall naturalism, but using a site-specific venue takes this call one step further: much of the tension in the play turns on Tom’s insistence that Kyra lives in a dump on purpose, out of spite or false martyrdom to her comfortable past, while Kyra reminds him that there’s nothing especially tawdry about her home – it’s just how most people actually live now.
The flat is a character in the play, just as the spectre of Britain’s post-Thatcher rentier economy looms over the debates about money, privilege, and access that animate the final act; Bazinet’s decision to herd spectators up two narrow flights of stairs in order to cram into a small space with actors and action writes that character large.
The flat is not the star of this outstanding production, though, because each one of the performers just kills it. I’ve never seen a “Skylight” with such tight chemistry.
Francesca Ranalli’s Kyra is at once soothingly and unnervingly calm, measuring her words with care and performing her ease with both Edward and Tom; I got the sense she was, indeed, comfortable with both, but never comfortable enough to let her guard down.
Jeff Miller’s Tom arrives at the door all suaveness, greatcoat over tailored suit, but almost immediately lets his guard down. From him, I sensed the decision to ring up his old love after work on a whim, a decision the ramifications of which only hit home near the play’s end, when, fuelled by drink and lack of sleep, he rips into Kyra with the furor of a man uncertain of both present and future.
Jeff Dingle’s Edward is jolly, charming, and just a bit of a prat; in the end he arrives bearing Hare’s only shot at redemption.
Alina Subrt and lighting designer Meaghan Marchand have created the kind of shabby-chic one-bedder that every contemporary Londoner (and quite a few London, On. denizens too, I suspect) would kill for, dressed in eclectic hand-me-downs and well-placed floor and table lamps. At times, in fact, the apartment seems a touch too comfortable – though being seduced (or not) by real estate is, of course, a good part of the point here. (A pleasant little apartment only reinforces Kyra’s point: really, it’s normal. In fact, it’s quite nice!)
My only quibble with the set-up is the choice that has audiences seated in rows facing the proverbial fourth wall; I’d have preferred something more in the round, or even properly immersive, given the claustrophobic potential of the environment (a good thing, in my books), and given that the lack of a rake meant I spent most of the evening staring into the back of someone’s head (less of a good thing).
“Skylight” is classic modern British social realism, though it’s not the best the genre has to offer; for my money, the work of Hare’s contemporaries Caryl Churchill, Martin McDonagh, and Mark Ravenhill take sharper shots at the political status quo. “Skylight’s” flaw, for me, has always been its tendency to bury its political commentary inside a personal storyline that seems at times far too Freudian for its own good; I’m always left with the nagging fear that Kyra really is just running away from daddy. But that’s Hare’s mistake to wear; there are none to speak of in this expertly judged, superbly acted, utterly magnetic production.
Catch it before it’s gone.
written by David Hare. Directed by Brenda Bazinet. With Francesca Ranalli, Jeff Dingle, Jeff Miller.
Set Alina Subrt, lighting and Sound Meaghan Marchand
Continuing through August 27
Doors open at 7:30 PM
Performance begins at 8:00 PM
Please note that seating is limited, advance reservation is recommended.
Call The ARTS Project at 519-642-2767
Purchase tickets online
Kim Solga is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at Western University, where she teaches on the Theatre Studies major and minor program. Her most recent book is Theatre& Feminism (Palgrave, 2015). She writes about teaching, performance, and activism at The Activist Classroom.
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