Theatre review: Skylight at Wyndham’s Theatre

and Carey Mulligan as Kyra Hollis

and Carey Mulligan as Kyra Hollis - Credit: Archant

Fellow critics have reached for superlatives and bestowed five stars upon Stephen Daldry’s revival of David Hare’s bruising collision of love and politics. But while the two leads are on undoubtedly brilliant form, I had reservations about the 1995 play and the icky May-September romance between cadaverously thin Bill Nighy (64) and dewy-skinned Carey Mulligan (29)

As wealthy restaurateur Tom, Nighy unleashes those familiar verbal and physical tics in a restless, almost self-parodying performance that’s always watchable but ultimately distancing.

Under the wattage of Nighy’s androgynous charisma, Tom’s bullying macho selfishness translates into raffish charm, unfairly tilting his arguments against Mulligan’s self-denying idealist Kyra.

Mulligan’s extraordinarily still performance of contained hurt and fury has an eloquent power all its own. A lesser actress would have disappeared.

After a six year affair with her boss, Kyra left Tom when his wife found out, and is paying puritannical penance teaching in a sink comprehensive in East Ham, and holed up in a crumbling council estate without TV or central heating.

Three years on, devastated with guilt and grief over his wife’s death, Tom returns to reclaim her.

The re-ignition of their attraction, loaded with past hurt and anger, is entwined with the cut and thrust of their mutually repellent politics.

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Pre Blairite education policies, she rails against right wing f***ers - sticking up for underpaid, unfashionable teachers and social workers coping with the damage wreaked by Thatcher’s policies.

Gifted all the funniest counter diatribes, the happily capitalist Tom mocks her do-gooding as a retreat from the world and from the commitment to love an individual.

Bob Crowley’s lovingly detailed estate contextualises the cheek by jowl lives of London’s disadvantaged, but while Skylight’s an intriguing staging post on how we got to here, it’s a less urgent, affecting examination of the uneasy gulf between the metropolitan rich and poor than recent West End offering Good People.

Rating: Three stars