This week, Impact Arts spoke to Tom Proffitt, the director of the Nottingham New Theatre’s next production, David Hare’s Skylight, to chat about the pressure of putting on such a beloved play, class differences and complex characters.
Can you describe what the play is about?
Skylight follows the story of Kyra Hollis, a maths teacher in her early thirties who is living in a very run-down area of London whilst working at a ‘problem school’. On the particular night on which this play is set, it portrays her being reunited with Tom Sergeant, a wealthy restauranteur who is twenty years older than her, who she has not seen for three years and who she had an affair with at one point! His wife has since died, and he has now come back to Kyra to try and reignite their affair, which leaves many questions to answer, such as why Tom has come back at this particular point, and more than anything else, whether the couple can get back together or not, considering that their lives are so different. Kyra has come to value social welfare and social good, alongside helping to better people, whilst Tom has remained very much set in his ways. It doesn’t help that for many reasons, Kyra has come to resent the self-indulgent lifestyle that Tom represents and upholds.
What has been your biggest challenge in directing this production so far?
If you’re talking about the actual directing itself, it’s ensuring the chemistry between the characters, Kyra, Tom and Edward, Tom’s son who appears fleetingly at the beginning and end of the play, is believable, and making all the characters understandable in their own way. Whilst in my opinion Kyra is the most sympathetic character, these are people who exist in real life and in real circumstances. That was one thing which was a big issue for me, but I have been very lucky as the wonderful cast have engaged very quickly with all the character development tasks I’ve wanted them to do, and they’ve all bonded really well within the rehearsal process. It’s almost as if they have known each other for years!
What is your favourite part of the production?
My favourite part of the production is honestly directing, alongside the really intense character development. Spending so much time with the cast, and getting to know them a lot better is great, as before I did this I’d never rehearsed with or directed them in a show before, so that has been really rewarding. It’s one of the best things about doing a show in an early slot, you get to spend so much time with these lovely people, see them grow, and bring to the stage the character and persona you want them to be, where they can go out there and perform.
What drew you to the play?
I must say, more than anything else, it was these characters and how they are all so very realistic and understandable. In many ways, the relationship between Kyra and Tom is very much a sad relationship; the circumstances that have come between them are just too big. The character of Tom is still set in his ways and values, a lot of which aren’t very desirable to Kyra, the outcome of which you’ll have to come and watch the play and find out!
Why do you think that Skylight will appeal to UoN students?
I think that it is an incredibly relevant play, because all three of these characters are stuck between two different sorts of values. On the one hand, seeking a job as a means to get by, or on the other, doing something that you actually enjoy, and which gives personal satisfaction. I feel that is very similar to the cycle which many students get stuck in, whereby everyone is taking out enormous amounts of money, not necessarily because we hope to get a job at the end of it, but because we are doing what we enjoy and want to learn more about ourselves as people, and that is very much what Kyra represents to me. I also think in terms of the political views it explores, such as expansive political ideas about wealth and social welfare, alongside issues related to women’s rights, which is a very important issue to me. These are all very important themes that are explored at university all the time. For example, the SU Elections are happening now, it’s very hard to get away from politics even in university. In that sense, politics is explored in a very realistic and contemporary manner, which I think is one of the things that makes it relatable; it manages to explore politics in much the same way university students talk about it. It’s also an incredibly funny play, with the wittiness coming out of everyday environments, which I feel will also appeal to us students.
Are you feeling any pressure following on from the Wyndham’s Theatre’s recent version of Skylight, which featured Carey Mulligan and Bill Nighy as Kyra and Tom?
I’m shutting it out of my mind almost entirely, to be honest! We are tweaking a lot of the stylistic elements that took place in the Wyndham’s production, but one thing I wanted to make clear to the cast was that we are not impersonators. It is not their job to impersonate Carey Mulligan and co., instead everything that comes out of the characters has been almost instinctual, coming from just watching scenes, and seeing what makes sense in the rehearsal room. How the cast balance the character dichotomies, and how they embody the character’s feelings is very refreshing and different, and that is one of the things I wanted to strive towards, rather than putting on an impersonation of a Wyndham’s Theatre production – which would give me no satisfaction whatsoever! I think there has been a fair bit of pressure in putting on a play people love and care about so much, and one which has such an iconic status. But at the same time, there has to be a sense of creative blindness involved in that process, otherwise you’ll fall into the trap of letting the audience influence you too greatly, too early, and that’s not a wonderful thing from a performance perspective.
Can you sum up Skylight in three words?
Endearing, beautiful and romantic.
‘Skylight’ is running at the Nottingham New Theatre from Wednesday 9th March until Saturday 12th March. For more information and to book tickets, see the NNT website here.