By William Wolf


Two of the theater-going highlights during my August, 2014 trip to London turned out to be the revival of David Hare’s dramatic “Skylight” and “Shakespeare in Love—the Play,” adapted for the stage by Lee Hall based on the screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard for the hit movie.

“Skylight,” in addition to demonstrating Hare’s sharp writing, succeeds especially because of its lead performances. Bill Nighy is enthralling in his reprise of the part of Tom Sergeant, in which he distinguished himself previously. Carey Mulligan, noted as a screen actress, is exceedingly good as Kyra Hollis, once in a love affair with Tom and now besieged by him in his needy effort to re-establish the relationship.

They are disastrously wrong for each other even though sparks still linger on her part despite the anger at his not having been in touch for a long period since their breakup when Tom’s wife learned about their affair. Also in the play is Matthew Beard, giving a good performance as Tom’s son Edward, with whom Kyra had built a relationship that he has missed.

One observes the emotional dance between Tom and Kyra and notes their respective defining characteristics. Tom, who is a wealthy restaurateur, is impossibly self-absorbed and mocks the modest flat in which Kyra lives. Despite the unsavory aspects of his character, Nighy is able to make us like him as a result of his acting ability to flash personality and make the most of the humor Hare includes in the banter between him and Kyra. Nighy’s performance is a gem and makes the show worthwhile just to see how he uses his skills via line reading nuance, body movement and subtle changes in expression.

Hare lives up to his reputation for social content in his work. Kyra is an idealist who loves teaching difficult children in needy areas and gets satisfaction from making a difference in young lives. Mulligan appealingly gets her passion across, and Hare has given her an excellent speech in which to reveal the depth of her caring and social commitment in contrast to Tom’s shallow, materialistic view of life. This aspect of “Skylight” is what makes the play more than just a love affair gone sour and the effort to rekindle it.

Bob Crowley has designed an interesting set with a background that reveals rows of flats defining the neighborhood. Stephen Daldry directs with insight into the need to accent the social aspects as well as the two-character review of their romantic entanglement.

The revival is ever so much better than the earlier performance I had seen with the role of Kyra inadequately played alongside Nighy’s Tom. The new production has achieved deserved popularity at Wyndham’s Theatre.

Can “Shakespeare in Love—the Play” work in a stage version? The answer is primarily yes. Although it could benefit from some tightening, the same ingredients that made the film so appealing are captured in the play and the cast is up to the task.

Tom Bateman excels as Will, as does David Oakes as Marlowe, and Lucy Briggs-Owen is charming and delightful as Viola De Lesseps, who disguises herself as a man so she can join the actors. Anna Carteret as Queen Elizabeth adds another layer of satisfaction.

Director Declan Donnellan has generated the right spirit for a work that both celebrates the Shakespearean era and has plenty of fun applying satirical wit. With Viola, the play opens a window on the limitations applied to women at the time. Even though the Bard’s plays were rich in women’s roles, men still had to play those parts.

There will be those who favor the film, of course, and see no reason for a play. But given the decision to mount a stage offering, the result is very engaging and provides theater-going pleasure. At the Noël Coward Theatre. Posted September 2, 2014.


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