The Height Of The Storm by Florian Zeller – review

Jonathan Pryce & Eileen Atkins shine in confusing drama

(3 / 5)

Click here to watch Paul’s review of The Height Of The Storm on the YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews

Eileen Atkins and Jonathan Pryce in Production photo from The Height Of The Storm by Florian Zeller directed by Jonathan Kent at Wyndham's Theatre featuring Eileen Atkins and Jonathan Pryce
Eileen Atkins and Jonathan Pryce in The Height Of The Storm

Florian Zeller’sThe Height Of The Storm is confusing. If you’re going to see it, it’s good that you know this because otherwise, like me, you’ll spend the whole evening trying to work out what’s going on instead of simply enjoying a moving love story.

The play is meant to be confusing but, unlike Florian Zeller’s The Father where it’s soon apparent that we are seeing the world from the point of view of a brain befuddled by dementia, on this occasion it is never clear why.

We start by meeting an elderly man called Andre. It appears that his wife is dead. Sometimes he seems vague, hardly there, sometimes people are hardly aware of him. Is he living in memory but not physically? Does he have dementia? Then it seems he is dead and it’s his wife Madeleine who has survived. At other times, it seems both could be dead or both alive.

These appear to be various possibilities of how the end days will pan out for an elderly couple.  My take is that they are visions of the future imagined by a couple prior to a suicide pact (there is much mention of poisonous mushrooms) but there are as many possibilities as there are potential outcomes of the Brexit negotiations.

Jonathan Kent’s naturalistic production is perfect for Florian Zeller’s play about enduring love 

What we do know for sure is that we are witnessing a couple at the end of their days who have been so in love for a lifetime that their bond lasts beyond death or perhaps dementia. There’s no sign of age withering Jonathan Pryce and Eileen Atkins. They give an acting masterclass as the couple. They fill their performances with subtle emotions- not only love but compassion, confusion, frustration, anger. Andre’s quiet warmth radiates into the auditorium. Madeleine’s acid comments cut through the air with stiletto sharpness.

Their relationship is the heart of the drama and leads to an immensely sad but uplifting climax, like, to use a key image from the play, a bird singing at the height of the storm of old age.

Jonathan Kent‘s naturalistic production, the detailed set by Anthony Ward that suggests a lifetime’s accumulation of possessions and Christopher Hampton‘s translation provide Zeller with perfect support.

Production shot showing cast of The Height Of The Storm at Wyndham's Theatre London
The Height Of The Storm

Depending on your age, you may also recognise the amusing attempts of the adult children to organise their parents’ lives and indeed shut those lives down by making arrangements for moving to a home.

I’ve read that you need to see this play two or three times to understand it. Since this is being presented at a mainstream London theatre, I imagine few will arrive expecting such confusion and even fewer will be able to afford to pay West End prices to see it again. If you go to see it, you might wish M. Zeller had given you a few more clues as to how to get inside The Height Of The Storm but you will come away touched by this portrait of transcending love.

The Height Of The Storm by Florian Zeller starring Jonathan Pryce and Eileen Atkins can be seen at Wyndham’s Theatre until 1 December 2018

Watch Paul’s YouTube review of The Height Of The Storm below

Pick Of May Shows

Top Theatre Shows Opening in May

Alfred Molina & Alfred Enoch in Red
Alfred Molina & Alfred Enoch in Red at Wyndham’s Theatre

Alfred Molina stars in the first UK revival of John Logan’s Red since Michael Grandage directed it at the Donmar Warehouse back in 2009. At that time the play about the abstract painter Mark Rothko went on to win six Tony Awards following a Broadway transfer, including one for Best Play. Alfred Molina reprises the role of the painter and is joined by Alfred Enoch who you may recognise from TV’s How To Get Away With Murder. It’s at Wyndham’s Theatre from 4 May.

It’s getting fractionally warmer and sunnier so what about a visit to the open–roofed Shakespeare’s Globe? Hamlet and As You Like It lead the summer season.

From 1 May, Park Theatre in Finsbury Park present the UK Premiere of Robert Schenkkan’s political thriller Building The Wall, a harrowing tale set in 2019 when terrible events have resulted from Donald Trump making good on his promise to build a wall between Mexico and the United States.

Rick played by Trevor White (who you might have seen playing Henry Miller in The Durrells) is incarcerated awaiting sentencing for the crime of the century. He grants just one interview – to Gloria, an African American historian, played by Angela Griffin. In a world of ‘fake news’ surrounding one of the world’s most powerful and controversial political figures, Gloria is Rick’s only chance to tell his version of the truth.

Photo of Frances Barber and Nathaniel Parker in An Ideal Husband
Frances Barber and Nathaniel Parker in An Ideal Husband at Vaudeville Theatre

Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband has its official opening night on 3 May at the Vaudeville Theatre in London as part of its Oscar Wilde season.  An ambitious government minister’s smooth ascent to the top seems assured until a woman appears with damning proof of his previous financial chicanery. The cast includes theatrical heavyweights Edward Fox and his son Freddie, Susan Hampshire, Sally Bretton and Frances Barber. When it finishes in London it moves west to the Theatre Royal Bath from 18 July while The Importance Of Being Earnest follows at the Vaudeville from 20 July.

Peter Brook called them ‘the finest ensemble theatre in Europe’. So there’s a little bit of excitement that the Maly Drama Theatre of St. Petersburg are returning to London for the first time in over a decade to play a ten-show engagement at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket beginning 8 May.  The 28-strong cast will be peforming the UK premiere of Vasily Grossman’s magnum opus, Life and Fate, an epic tale about Russia told through the fate of a single Jewish family. The company will also perform their critically acclaimed production of  Chekov’s Uncle Vanya.

Summer Holiday. A brand new stage musical version of the film begins a tour that will cover most of the country. The show will include all of the hits from the movie, which of course starred Cliff Richard, plus some more of his hits.

Taking on the lead role of Don made famous by Cliff Richard is singer-songwriter Ray Quinn. Ray shot to fame in The X Factor in 2006 and has subsequently carved out a career for himself in stage musicals including playing Danny Zuko in Grease in the West End and appearing in Dirty Dancing, Legally Blonde and The Wedding Singer. For the first 8 weeks of the tour, the role of Jerry, the long-suffering agent, will be played by Bobby Crush. The iconic red double-decker bus makes its first stop at the Liverpool Empire on 8 May.

Jordi Galceran’s The Grönholm Method gets its UK premiere at The Menier Chocolate Factory.  The successful American director BT McNicholl makes his UK directorial debut.

Set in the offices of a New York City Fortune 500 company, four unsuspecting candidates embark on the most testing job interview of their lives. This taut play – which premièred in Barcelona in 2003 to great critical acclaim- exposes the psychological depths people will go to in order to get what they want. The production opens on 10  May.

It may be associated with Christmas these days but Peter Pan is an excellent theatrical entertainment any time of the year and to prove it the Open Air Theatre at Regents Park have a version running from 17 May. In this spellbinding production, the story becomes an allegory for World War One as wounded soldiers escape into the world of their imagination.

It sold out last year at The National Theatre. Now Nina Raine’s Consent is getting a West End run. It’s a searing look at the law in which friends take opposing briefs in a contentious legal case. The key witness is a woman whose life seems a world away from theirs. At home, their own lives begin to unravel as every version of the truth is challenged. You can see what the Daily Telegraph called a ‘tense, entertaining modern-day tragi-comedy’ at the Harold Pinter theatre in London from 18 May.

Kay Mellor’s Fat Friends‘ triumphant tour has reached Scotland. It’s at King’s Theatre in Glasgow until  5 May and His Majesty’s Theatre in Aberdeen from the 21-26 May.

Stefanie Powers in 84 Charing Cross Road
Stefanie Powers in 84 Charing Cross Road

84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff is lovely, gentle story about a transatlantic friendship between a New York writer and a London bookshop owner which starts in the 40s and goes through to the 60s. There’s a new tour of James Roose-Evans’ stage adaptation starring the excellent  Stefanie Powers and Clive Francis. It begins at Darlington Hippodrome on 23 May before moving on to Wolverhampton, Malvern, Richmond, Oxford and finally Cambridge Arts Theatre.

Frantic Assembly are always worth a look. From 25 May at the Lyric Hammersmith, the company presents Fatherland by Simon Stephens of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time fame. Fatherland is described as ‘a bold, ambitious show about contemporary fatherhood in all its complexities and contradictions’. It’s  ‘a daring collage of words, music and movement will transform the Lyric animated by a 13-strong cast and a multitude of voices’.

Photo of Audrey Fleurot
Audrey Fleurot Photo: Patrick Swirc

These days we often associate Christopher Hampton with his brilliant translations of plays but he’s a fine playwright in his own right as Dangerous Liaisons, Art and Atonement attest. His adaptation of Moliere’s Tartuffe re-locates the comedic masterpiece to present day Los Angeles. Orgon is a French media tycoon determined to become part of Hollywood royalty. He falls under the influence of Tartuffe, re-imagined as  a radical American evangelist, who plots to steal his fortune, seduce his wife and marry his daughter.

It stars Paul Anderson from Peaky Blinders and Audrey Fleurot who I love from the French TV police drama Spiral. Tartuffe will be the West End’s first ever dual language theatre production, in English and French with surtitles throughout the performance. It opens at the Theatre Royal Haymarket on 25 May.

And finally in this section, a closure. This month offers your last chance to catch Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman. The Royal Court production directed by Sam Mendes ends its hugely successful run at the Gielgud Theatre on 19 May.

Booking Opens In May For These Top Theatre Shows

The Royal National Theatre has announced some new productions. Rhys Ifans appears in a new version of Eugene Ionesco’s Exit the King. It’s  written and directed by Patrick Marber. You’ll know him from plays like Dealer’s Choice, Closer, Three Days in The Country (his version of Turgenev’s A Month In The Country), After Miss Julie (his version of Strindberg’s Miss Julie) and Don Juan in Soho (his version of Moliere’s Don Juan). I suppose we should be grateful he’s kept the same name this time. Exit The King is a tragi-comedy about a dying king- and dying in general. The first performance is on 17 July.

It’s part of the Travelex Season so there’ll be hundreds of £15 tickets available for every performance

The intimate Dorfman Theatre is the venue for the world premiere of Home, I’m Darling by Laura Wade, author of Posh. Katherine Parkinson who you’ll know from The IT Crowd and Humans plays Judy in this unsettling new comedy about one woman’s quest to be the perfect 1950s housewife. Home, I’m Darling, which is a co-production with Theatr Clwyd, runs from 24 July.

Make a note in your diary. Public booking for Exit The King and Home I’m Darling opens on Friday 18 May at 8.30pm. If you’re a member, you can book earlier.

Don’t forget there’s an NT Live screening of the National’s controversial Macbeth with Rory Kinnear and Anne-Marie Duff on 10 May. If you’re not sure whether to go see it, take a look at my video on YouTube 5 Reasons The Critics Hate Macbeth at the National and also my own 4 star review. You’ll foind both of those on my YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews.

Ian McKellen as King Lear at Chichester Festival Theatre.
Ian McKellen as King Lear. Photo: Manuel Harlan

Some new NT Live screenings were also announced.  Nottingham Playhouse’s The Madness of George III with Mark Gatiss can be seen on 20 November. Before that, Chichester Festival Theatre’s production of King Lear starring Ian McKellen will be broadcast live from the Duke Of York’s on 27 September.

Talking of King Lear, the casting has now been announced. Reprising their roles will be Sinéad Cusack as Kent, Danny Webb as Gloucester and Kirsty Bushell as Regan. I can tell you all of these were superb in the original production. The production opens at the Duke Of York’s on 11 July. There are only 100 performances scheduled.

The Park Theatre in Finsbury Park London is always worth checking out for high quality productions. Their latest season is now on sale. It opens with the world premiere of a black comedy called  End Of The Pier by Danny Robins.  Les Dennis plays a former comedy presenter and national treasure thrust back into the limelight, at the centre of a media frenzy. Then there’s a revival of The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, the world premiere of a psychological thriller The Other Place and a revival of Joanna Murray-Smith’s Honour, an unflinching portrait of what happens when a secure marriage suddenly stalls.

Riaz Khan’s book Memoirs of an Asian Football Casual which details his experience of racism, the violence and the pop-culture in 1980s Leicester has been adapted for the stage. It’s coming to Curve Leicester from 26 September to 6 October. We’re promised an immersive experience from director  Nikolai Foster who is Curve’s Artistic Director.

Photo of Dawn French
Dawn French

Looking even further ahead, this year’s London Palladium pantomime will be Snow White. It will star Dawn French as The Wicked Queen and sees the return of Julian Clary as The Man in The Mirror. Also in the cast are Paul Zerdin, Nigel Havers and a particular favourite of mine Gary Wilmot as the dame. It begins on 8 December 2018 and runs until Sunday 13 January 2019.  Public booking opens on Friday 4 May 2018. Last year’s Palladium panto Dick Whittington from the same production team won an Olivier

You don’t have to go to London for a great panto. The Great British Pantomime Awards 2018 named last year’s Salisbury Playhouse panto Jack And The Beanstalk ‘best panto at a theatre with less than 750 seats’. This year their panto is Beauty And The Beast.