Review: An electric and exciting portrayal of a very adult affair in Skylight on Chipping Norton stage

Tom (Louis Dempsey) and Kyra (Rosie Wyatt) in Skylight. Picture: Josh Tomalin
Tom (Louis Dempsey) and Kyra (Rosie Wyatt) in Skylight. Picture: Josh Tomalin

Nick Le Mesurier reveiws Skylight at The Theatre, Chipping Norton

Skylight, David Hare’s 1995 three-hander, concerns a former love affair between Tom (Louis Dempsey), a charismatic and successful restaurateur, and Kyra (Rosie Wyatt), who used to work for him and became, as it were, one of his family. Also involved are Edward (Roly Botha), Tom’s son, and Alice, Tom’s former wife who died of cancer but who is very much present though absent on stage.

We live in times when it seems ever easier to jump to moral conclusions. Though it is palpably clear that Tom and Kyra once loved each other and, in a tortured, twisted kind of way, still do, their affair was of the sort to raise a number of questions and quite a few eyebrows. Kyra joined Tom’s family as a young woman fresh from home. She takes a job as a waitress in one of Tom and Alice’s restaurants, but when their daughter has an accident and Alice has to leave, she is on her first night, asked to take over. She does it well. More than that, she feels and shows an immediate affinity with her employers, which is reciprocated. Something clicks. Before long she is not only working for them but sleeping with Tom, their affair hidden in plain sight and blossoming within the tight confines of its restrictions. Then, after six years, Tom blows it by (deliberately?) leaving evidence where Alice can find it. This done, Kyra feels her only option is to run away, which she does without notice.

That’s the background. The action we see is Tom’s clumsy, desperate attempt at a reconciliation. Kyra is now living alone in a cold little box-room flat in a rough part of London. She has traded the material comforts of her former life for a rigorous regime as a teacher in a tough inner-city school. It is a different world, in every sense, and she has embraced it with a middle-class conscience full of outrage at injustice.

But while Tom may be cynical, a bottom-line businessman and a philistine he is no fool and can recognise pretension when he sees it. He skewers Kyle’s conscience and almost overcomes it. Yet there is steel at the core of her convictions too. Kyra has found a vocation and a cause to fight for. She believes in what she’s doing, just as Tom believes in what he does. Each has drifted far apart, and yet when they meet again each knows that something still breathes between them.

And breathe it does in this electric, exciting portrayal of a very adult affair. All the action is in the dialogue as the two former lovers verbally writhe in a conflict that is laden with erotic tension. The richness of the play is of the sort that grows on you as you come away and think about it. Superficially Tom is arrogant, selfish, seemingly limited in his emotional intelligence, a typical alpha-male. There is even a hint of incest in their attraction for each other, the much older Tom replacing Kyra’s emotionally distant father. But he is a rule-breaker who in spite of (or perhaps because of) his flaws has learned something of the real world that a more decent guy wouldn’t understand. And Kyra, though she might seem the weaker, more vulnerable and appealing character, is less than candid when it comes to explaining her own motives.

Louis Dempsey gives Tom a depth and a dignity it would be all too easy to obscure beneath his macho bravado, while Rosie Wyatt delivers a stunning and utterly believable performance as Kyra, young, innocent, passionate, and forced to grow up fast through the ruins of an affair. And Roly Batha is simply charming as Edward, a young man with a good heart that, one feels, might just survive the trials and complexities of adult life and love to come.

* Skylight runs until Saturday September 21. Visit www.chippingnortontheatre.com or call 01608 642350 to book.