‘Skylight’: Poignant, Realistic and Unexpectedly Funny

The attention to detail in Hugh Tappin’s production of Skylight is remarkable.  Stepping into the Burton Taylor Studio felt like walking into a ramshackle flat, complete with a shabby, tea-stained table, a working kettle, and a (slightly wobbly) front door.  Skylight, with its naturalistic dialogue and low-key setting, calls for a thorough commitment to realism, both of set and performance, and as the play progressed, and the smell of cooking spaghetti wafted through the audience, it became clear that Tappin and his cast of three had achieved both.

With its intense focus on the characters’ casual, argumentative, sometimes painfully sad conversations about the past, the play puts considerable demands on its three actors, who rise to the challenge magnificently.

Skylight follows Kyra (Natalie Woodward), a tired school teacher, through one night in her flat, as she settles down for an evening of marking workbooks, and is interrupted, first by Edward (Luke Wintour), a teenage boy she used to babysit, and then by Edward’s father, and Kyra’s former lover, Tom (Adam Diaper).  As the night goes on, the circumstances of Kyra and Tom’s relationship are gradually revealed through their reminiscences and reproaches, and the pair tentatively attempt to rekindle a spark that clearly still exists, but is threatened by their vastly differing outlooks and ways of life.

With its intense focus on the characters’ casual, argumentative, sometimes painfully sad conversations about the past, the play puts considerable demands on its three actors, who rise to the challenge magnificently.  The artless realism of their performances was impressive, and all three seemed entirely at home within the set, interacting with the furniture and props with an easy spontaneity.  Perhaps the highlight in this respect was Natalie Woodward’s remarkable ability to cook a spaghetti Bolognese from scratch, while keeping up an emotionally charged exchange with Adam Diaper’s Tom, about the minutiae of their relationship, and the right way to cook a chilli pepper.

Woodward gave a powerful performance as Kyra, tempering her jaded, defensive sarcasm with flashes of vulnerability.  Her performance was sustained beautifully, even in moments of silence, or when alone onstage, and part of the joy of the play was watching Woodward’s varying incredulity, anger and amusement as she interacted with Diaper.  The relationship between Kyra and Tom was convincing; the actors managed to foster a genuine sense of warmth through their conversation, which gave the later scenes of the play their emotional punch.

Diaper was excellent as ambitious restauranteur Tom, treading a careful line between the character’s obnoxiousness, and an underlying sense of hurt, which saved him from becoming a mere caricature.  Diaper avoided the temptation to play his character for laughs, and while he undoubtedly provided much of the humour of the piece, this was generated by his utter lack of self-awareness, rather than a comic knowingness, which would have damaged the play’s sense of realism.  Indeed, despite his flippancy and professions of universal disdain, there was something sincere about Diaper’s Tom, who seemed genuinely upset at the quality of Kyra’s Parmesan cheese, and whose offhand dismissals of his son were undercut by moments of pensive, regretful silence.

Finally, as Tom’s son Edward, Luke Wintour brought a sweet, nervous earnestness to the role that was a delight to watch.  His candid simplicity provided a welcome contrast to the guardedness of the two older characters, and his reappearance towards the end of the play offered an unexpected moment of hope.  The performance as a whole was slick, with original music by Jack Trzcinski providing a suitable accompaniment to the time lapse sections, and the beginning and end of the play.  Occasionally, the blackouts in these sections felt overly long, and so disrupted the illusion of reality that the actors worked so hard to create.  However, this is only a minor point, and both cast and crew should be commended for this engaging, poignant piece of theatre.

Skylight plays at the BT Studio in 8th Week.