By Gabriella Sills
Producing a play like David Hare’s 1995 ‘Skylight’ in Durham is always going to raise some questions, with characters like Edward and Tom representing half the male student population of the city. The play concerns Kyra, a maths teacher at a deprived east-end school, and her relationship with the Sergeant family, her previous employers. This includes the likes of Tom, a self-made restaurateur with whom Kyra had an adulterous six-year relationship; Edward, Tom’s eighteen-year-old son; and, although unseen in the play, Alice, Tom’s wife who died the previous year from cancer. The action takes place over one night and considers Kyra’s sudden desertion of the family three years before.
All the actors all give strong performances. Sarah Cameron’s Kyra balances a difficult mix of sarcasm and warmth which is ably displayed through her subtle eye-rolls and shakes of the head. She really comes into her own in the second half through her overwhelming emotional response, when Kyra’s despair over the incompatibility of her previous relationship truly hits her. Tom Sergeant immediately gives a sense of Edward being out of place in this environment through his surveyance of the flat and many objects in it. His assertive nature is noted through his often condescending tone and side glances, but also physically through his dominance in the space. However, this is balanced with more sensitive moments of grief, especially concerning Tom’s deceased wife, when he cannot even bear to look at Kyra. Together, the pair work well to achieve the spark between the couple yet highlight the aggravation concerning their deep-found differences.
All the cast deal well with the challenges of their character’s ages.
Kishore Thiagarajan-Walker’s portrayal of Edward brings out the comedy in this ‘gap-year’ figure, bringing a natural warmth to his performance, especially at the close of the play. All the cast deal well with the challenges of their character’s ages. Whitmore’s demeanour gives him the gravitas to portray a middle-aged man and Thiagarajan-Walker suggests Edward’s awkward eighteen-year-old boy tendencies, especially when is he is confused by Kyra’s emotive embrace.
Francesca Davies-Cáceres’ direction is specifically sensitive to the emotions slowly unfurling onstage. From the passive aggressive chopping of an onion by Kyra in suitable places, to Tom’s taking of tissues several minutes after he has finished crying (God forbid showing emotions), means many decisions felt well timed. Some of the long-held glances between Kyra and Tom in the first half perhaps felt too early and a little cliched, but this later felt appropriate and is fully exploited to bring out the comedy of their ‘moment’ beside the bubbling pasta. Only minor details in the sense of realism could have been improved, with cooking live onstage always being a dodgy business. Similarly, the irony of the red tie worn by Tom and blue jumper worn by Kyra in the final scene seemed like an unusual, possibly ironic choice.
The setting of Cafedral for the play is unusual, with the coffee machines and cups still lurking in the background. However, the soft light coming in from the street lamps outside and the subtle work by the tech team makes it atmospheric and easily applicable to Kyra’s London flat. Even the drunken shouts coming in from the streets do not feel strictly out of place. The makeshift nature of it all reflects the supposed ‘makeshift’ life of Kyra’s life that Tom is poking fun at.
Overall, the political relevance of Skylight was sensitively handled, but perhaps could have had more prominence. Where the play really thrives is in its emotional response to the relationships it presents and inviting the audience to inspect the power dynamic between the central couple.
Catch the last performance of Lion Theatre Company’s ‘Skylight’ on the 17th February at 7:30pm in Cafédral.