"Have you read Freud?", asks the 18-year-old Edward within minutes of paying an unexpected call at the bleak, chilly North London flat of his father's former mistress Kyra. And a beat later, of course, you're being told what Freud says: "I read some recently. I told Dad everything had to come out. That you pay a price. For everything you repress, there's a price to be paid."
Audiences have to pay a high price themselves to hear this stuff (tickets cost up to £99.75 for a play that runs two hours and only features three actors). David Hare's 1995 play has a lot more of those kinds of irritating expositions, as we discover just what price Kyra - now a schoolteacher in East Ham - has had to pay for her six-year affair with Edward's highly successful restaurateur father Tom. In a busy night in Kensal Rise, no sooner does Edward depart and Kyra attempt to have a relaxing bath than Tom arrives, too, to attempt to rekindle their relationship after the death of his wife Alice from cancer a year earlier.
The play is by turns sad, intense, thoughtful and talkative, but there's something unconvincingly felt at the heart of it all: just as Hare has clearly manipulated the comings and goings of the characters, he also seems to be manipulating them into positions, not feelings.
But if there's therefore an emptiness at the heart of the play, the spellbinding actors do everything to bring them to fully-inhabited three-dimensional life. Young Matthew Beard makes a brief but telling appearance as Edward. But it is the central duo that audiences are coming to see and make this play absolutely worth seeing, despite the problems I have with the play itself and some aspects of this production of it.
Bill Nighy, returning to the role of Tom that he inherited from Michael Gambon when the National's original production played its second West End run at the Vaudeville Theatre, brings untameable emotions to a performance that is full of physical and vocal ticks. These may be distracting to some, but he has a sense of prowling danger as he fights for the love of his life. His habit of swallowing words before he even finishes saying them suggests a man in a hurry, whose thoughts constantly run ahead of his speech.
Carey Mulligan, making her West End stage debut (though she's previously appeared on stage at the Royal Court), is far more contained as Kyra, to the point of being hard to hear at times, but has a still, steely determination that is gripping to watch.
It seems a pity in the circumstances that Bob Crowley's set seems to be intent on giving a performance of its own. In a programme note, Hare says that it was "first-ever play in a room", but here we see not only the rest of Krya's home but also the walkways and frontages of other flats on the same estate. As lights come on and go out in them, it's an unnecessary exterior addition to the interior landscape of this play.
Stephen Daldry's over-imposing production duly makes the play seem more remote in the intimate Wyndham's Theatre than it should have been, but the performances win the day.
"Thrillingly revived by Stephen Daldry in a knockout production."
Charles Spencer for The Daily Telegraph
"How has it stood the test of time? Remarkably well is the answer to judge from this splendid revival..."
Paul Taylor for The Independent
"Everything about this production is finely judged, even down to the way the passage of time is denoted through the lights going on and off in the windows of Bob Crowley's tower-block set."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"Skylight packs real emotional punch and is often at its funniest when most angry. Nighy is a study in nimble charisma, relishing Hare’s diatribes about the charlatans who clog up the modern world, and Mulligan is admirably measured — yet erupts startlingly during the play’s most explosive moment."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard