October 01, 1996


Filed under: Archive,Interstate,Theatre

David Hare
Melbourne Theatre Company
in association with Adelaide Festival Centre Trust

Reviewed by Murray Bramwell

It has been a good time for The Adelaide Festival Centre Trust and a good time for the Space. The so-called World Theatre program brought in Nick Enright’s Good Works and now David Hare’s Skylight. They are both good plays and in the modest confines of the Space they have also given us absorbing performances.

David Hare’s writing suggests many things. The precocious talent of Slag, the political earnestness of Fanshen, the collaboration with Howard Brenton in Pravda and the move to commercial theatre with Plenty. Recently he has completed his Racing Demon trilogy and restaged Brecht at the National. But nothing could be as timely, or persuasive, in restoring his reputation than his naturalistic three-hander, Skylight.

A lot is said about stage naturalism these days- and most of it bad. It is obligatory to avoid it, as the dead hand of an outmoded theatrical style, killed outright long ago by literal cinematography. Writers, designers and directors go out of their way to abstract or put expressionist spin into their work. Anything to avoid unmodish verisimilitude. I approve of this impulse myself, of course. Which is why I am so pleasantly astonished by Skylight when it so amply reminds us that there is no preferred style in the theatre and that the real trouble with naturalism is that it is usually done badly.

Kyra Hollis is a teacher in a down at heel school in inner city London. She travels by bus each day from her dreary bed sit to the crummy environs of her employment. She is committed to her task and proud of her precarious achievements. One evening, just back from work she is unexpectedly visited by a young man, Edward, who wants to talk about his deteriorated relationship with his father. Since the death by cancer of Edward’s mother, the father has gone to hell in a handcart. Kyra is sympathetic but distant -only to be confronted with her recent past when Tom, the father, and her former lover, arrives on the doorstep, full of false bonhomie and a need to expiate past events.

Hare’s play is a refreshing departure from the usual problem play formulated around parallel concerns of the social/political and the personal. Skylight is a dialogue on social responsibilty – asking whether Tom’s wealthy life as a now-retired London restaurateur entitles him to speculate on Kyra’s career motives, or whether their adultery entitled Tom’s wife to punish him with her anger to the very day she dies, or whether when Kyra walks out on the relationship she also abandoned her responsibilities to Edward in whose life she figured importantly.

Hare’s canvas is small but the intensity he creates and the threads of emotional narrative and social argument so inextricable that we are forced to enter the difficulty and complexity of human relationships, not merely join mutually exclusive cheer squads for capitalists and social workers. This is achieved by the depth and verve of dialogue reminiscent of the best of Bernard Shaw. Kyra excoriates not only the remoteness of Tom’s view of the world but the vanity of his kind. The rich don’t make money any more, she sneers, they create wealth. Such is the self-pity of the rich that, not content with accumulating wealth, they require people to thank them for it as well.

Directed by Roger Hodgman and designed by Tony Tripp, this MTC production is of high calibre. Tripp’s set is meticulously detailed with a cantilevered ceiling and everything down to the kitchen sink. When Kyra is browning onions against Tom’s fastidious culinary instruction we have the aroma to judge who’s right. Of course we don’t go to the theatre to smell the onions, but in this production Hodgman and Tripp confidently remind us that you can enjoy the pleasures of realism even when you think it gets up your nose.

More importantly, though, the well-realised acting space provides opportunity for some fine performances. As the bewildered teenager Edward, Mark Wilson is endearingly agitated and if he is initially somewhat mannered he brings a delightful warmth to the final scene. Tammy McCarthy is also convincing as Kyra, a young woman out of her depth with a rich and powerful family who has no idea how much they have come to need and depend on her. McCarthy captures the idealism and penitential aspects in Kyra while rising to her forthrightness as well.

As Tom, Frank Gallacher is formidable. It is as assured a performance as we will see in some time. Getting the confidence of a well-heeled, self-made Scotsman is one thing, and delivering the aphoristic ripostes to Kyra’s hair-shirtiness is another, but Gallacher consummately draws on every opportunity the writing affords him. The widower’s bewilderment, the adulterer’s regret, the father’s grief, the ageing lover’s insecurity – the many facets of the character are all in evidence, in their unalloyed probability. And not as special pleading or as virtuosic surface writing, but splendidly integrated into this modestly drawn but illuminating chamber play.

The Adelaide Review, October, 1996.

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