THE BLOG
06/24/2014 04:11 am ET Updated Aug 23, 2014

First Nighter: 'Skylight,' 'The Pajama Game' Revived, 'Adler & Gibb' New in London

LONDON -- When Tom Sergeant (Bill Nighy) drops in on Kyra Hollis (Carey Mulligan) totally unannounced in the revival of David Hare's 1995 play Skylight, at Wyndham's, he's clearly there to fan the embers of a six-year affair that ended two years earlier. That's when Tom's dying wife Alice learned about what was going on, and Kyra left the household, having long told Tom she would depart immediately if Alice ever found out.

At Alice's council-flat-like home (Bob Crowley's cleverly claustrophobic design), Tom and Kyra go through two acts of quarreling about their various motives, alternating between reconciliation and permanent rupture, but not incidentally before Tom's son Edward (Matthew Beard) has preceded his father to Kyra's, saying his father is in psychological trouble and needs her help.

Once Tom -- snazzily dressed in slim blue overcoat, jacket, trousers and slim tie -- and Kyra, garbed in practical black (Crowley's costumes), get gabbing, what they say to each other is sometimes soothing but, with a short break for an unseen encounter in bed, mostly wounding. Tom accuses her of being grandly abusive by leaving as she had. She upbraids him for his callous attitude towards her current employment: teaching deprived children.

Since this is Hare, the dialogue is cutting cut-crystal. Tom and Kyra are smart people -- Edward is also bright and nice but troubled -- and so they have smart things to say about themselves and each other. Before the chatty work is over, Hare has weighted it in Kyra's favor, in spite of giving Tom the funnier, even cute, comments. Tom also gets laughs every time he refers to a part of London audiences think amusing at their mere mention.

Because there's so much palaver and little action -- a few items, like a kitchen drawer, do get thrown -- director Stephen Daldry keeps Kyra, Tom and, when he's present, Peter on the constant trot. Tom can sit still but doesn't like to. Kyra spends a good deal of her time preparing a meal that doesn't get eaten. If she isn't slicing and dicing, she often stands about listening severely with arms folded across her chest.

When Skylight premiered with Michael Gambon and Lia Williams in the roles, they seemed like stick figures expressing opposite political views. That isn't the case here. Not that Gambon and Williams weren't effective, but somehow Mulligan and Nighy bring convincing vitality to this stage. Nighy plays a man so intent on getting to his point that he often fails to end words in order to get on to the next point. All he lets out are, say, "Los Angel--" or "confu--."

Because the second act of Skylight is too much a repeat of the first in terms of the focal pair's back-and-forthing, it isn't among the best of Hare's 29 full-length words, but thanks to the playing and the directing here, it's full of dramatic oomph.
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A curious thing happened when I saw the revival of The Pajama Game, at the Shaftesbury, on the only day, a matinée, I was able to get to it. I learned at picking up my press seats that both leading ladies--Joanna Riding and Alexis Owen-Hobbs--would be replaced by their understudies, Lauren Varnham as Babe Williams and Helen Ternent as Gladys.

It wouldn't be that unusual a recurrence, were it not for specific theater lore associated with the original 1954 Pajama Game production and what happened one day when the original Gladys (Carol Haney) couldn't go on, and her understudy did: Shirley MacLaine. Movie producer Hal B. Wallis was in the second audience for which she performed, and the rest is theater/movie history.

Wallis is gone, but if Harvey Weinstein had shown up in the orchestra the day I was there (I didn't see him, but you never know), history could now be repeating itself for Varnham or Ternent or both. They each delivered vivacious performances in the musical for which Richard Bissell and George Abbott supplied the libretto (based on Bissell's novel 7 1/2 Cents), for which the young songwriting of Jerry Ross and Richard Adler supplied the memorably jubilant score and for which the first reviews were deserved raves.

If The Pajama Game is new to you, it takes place at the Sleep Tite pajama factory (imagined as a dark and hulking environment by Tim Hatley), where the workers, led by grievance committee head Williams comes up against shop manager Sid Sorokin (Michael Xavier) over demands for a raise that company head Mr. Hasler (Colin Stinton) refuses to grant.

Today, the minuscule hike the employees want dates the tuner, and the loose treatment women on site receive from the men would probably be toned way down, but the start-to-finish ebullience and those songs--three of which ("Hey There," "Hernando's Hideaway," "Steam Heat") became Top 40 clicks--guarantee a good time.

Director Richard Eyre makes certain that nothing misfires, and choreographer Stephen Mear keeps the joint jumping. (Bob Fosse was the original dance master, and he remains hard to equal.) The cast is bright-eyed and sharp, especially tall, good-looking Xavier of the ringing voice; Stinton at his harrumphing, Gary Wilmot as jealous-of-Gladys time/study man Vernon Hines and Claire Machin as secretary Mabel.
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In the first act of Tim Crouch's Adler & Gibb, just opened at the Royal Court, an American student (Rachel Redford) stomps into a pit carved from the orchestra, approaches a lectern and starts reading a paper on the fictional collaborative artists Janet Adler and Margaret Gibb (Amelda Brown). This is after the play starts, and audience members taking their seats have watched a couple of children on the stage, lying prone and drawing.

As the student haltingly reads her text, she calls for accompanying slides, at which point actors Brown and others take the stage and begin to talk. Apparently, these living slides are Margaret resisting a movie crew come to make a documentary on the artistic pair.

What Crouch is getting at, in part certainly, is a send-up of the respect shown conceptual artists, in this instance two who when asked to contribute to the Whitney Museum's permanent collection, send a three-month old mongrel puppy.

As the actors declaim, often loudly and directly at the audience, the children hand them props and perform other duties. At one point in the puzzling first-act proceedings, Louise (Denise Gough)--who's meant to portray Adler in the film--takes an air-filled plastic bat and savagely beats to supposed death one of the children.

Enough proceeding that pointless gesture had been off-putting, but it was then that I, who never leave a play I'm reviewing, decided to break my rule and skip the second act of a work playwright Crouch directed with Karl James and Andy Smith. It took three of them to oversee this specious material?