Where else can you see a theatrical masterpiece for £12.50?
The National Theatre have, once again, opened up their performances to cinema screens across the country, this time for a live screening of ‘Skylight’, starring Carey Mulligan, Bill Nighy and Matthew Beard.
Largely a two-man performance, David Hare’s play is essentially an extended conversation between ex-lovers and the child in the middle, and it’s fascinating that a conversation can be so powerful and so captivating. Having played the role eighteen years previously, Bill Nighy was practically perfection; his comic timing and ability to handle the transition between smooth businessman to heartbroken wreck was uncanny, and something I don’t think many actors could handle with such conviction. Yes, his wisecracking was poking fun at Mulligan’s Keira, but there was never a doubt that something bigger was working in the background. At every moment, you could see Nighy’s Tom fighting his psychological pain, refusing to acknowledge its existence until it was too late.
Mulligan was equally heartbreaking; despite a clear age difference (which initially meant I couldn’t place them together physically), she pulled off that protective love that her character had felt for Tom, and her ability to convincingly dissolve into tears on cue made her performance all the more heart-wrenching to watch. My favourite thing about Keira as a character was her convictions; in fact, the highlight of the play for me was in the second half, where Keira rants about how the corruption of the world reflects our inability to act, to do instead of to judge. Her ending words within her rant, accusing journalists and governments of judging without trying to do the work of a social worker, teacher etc. resonated with the audience both in and outside of the theatre, leading to well deserved applause after she’d finished. Perhaps this is the beauty of the play; yes ultimately it may be about broken love, but the political resonance that has (perhaps worryingly) stood the test of time makes it inhabit your core values and question them throughout the performance and long afterwards.
As for the cinema experience, don’t think that it detracts from the viewing pleasure; in fact, you wouldn’t notice all the nuances and subtleties without it. There was a moment where Tom tried to grasp Keira’s finger when she sat by him, and I’m fairly confident in thinking you might not have noticed this small action in the dress circle of a theatre, let alone in a restricted view seat. Perhaps the only criticism of this medium is that sometimes the camera is misplaced; Keira’s vicious throwing of the cutlery draw was largely missed because the camera was on Tom after he had slipped up and said the words that pushed her over the edge. But when you see how many people turn up to these events, and that it is reaching thousands across the country in one night, is it a method that can be knocked if it sustains the glory of British theatre? Our theatre was filled with a mix of people, and it struck me that the elderly members of our audience who had come together would not be able to travel to London easily, yet here they had the opportunity to be involved in something utterly breathtaking. The theatre become a global experience, and it was fabulous.
‘Skylight’ is only one of the upcoming NT Live productions; ‘Medea’, ‘Frankenstein’ (Encore), ‘The Curious Incident…’ and many more productions are heading to cinema screens soon, and I urge people to support this venture and enjoy the theatre as you never have before.