The Height Of The Storm by Florian Zeller – review

Jonathan Pryce & Eileen Atkins shine in confusing drama

(3 / 5)
Production shot from The Height Of The Storm by Florian Zeller with Eileen Atkins and Jonathan Pryce
Eileen Atkins & 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.

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

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.

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.

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

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

Red with Alfred Molina- Wyndham’s

Alfred Molina commands the stage in Red

Click here to see review of Red on One Minute Theatre Reviews channel on YouTube

(4 / 5)
Photo of Red by John Logan directed by Michael Grandage at Wyndham's Theatre
Red by John Logan directed by Michael Grandage at Wyndham’s Theatre. Photo: Johan Persson

Red is a conversation about art. I realise that could sound boring but I promise you it isn’t. You will be caught up in the passion that writer John Logan  shows for the history of art, the creation of art, even the meaning of the colour red. And you will be gripped by a drama about the conflict between an older and younger generation.

Alfred Molina plays the artist Mark Rothko at a late point in his career when he’s famous and successful. And if you go to this play for no other reason, go to see Alfred Molina.

The abstract expressionist movement of which Rothko was a major player has blown away what went before, but he himself now faces destruction from a new movement with new ideas, Pop Art. As Rothko himself says, the child must banish the parents. It’s a commanding performance. His Rothko is a confident, self-centred, controlling, great artist but we also see just how vulnerable he feels.

Production photo of Alfred Molina and Alfred Enoch in Red
Alfred Molina and Alfred Enoch in Red. Photo: Johan Persson

His assistant Ken, played by Alfred Enoch, represents the new generation. Rothko is very serious about how he fits into history and how profound his art. Like Ken, the new generation- Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol- are more broad-minded and playful. Ken questions and challenges Rothko, gently at first, more confidently as the months pass.

The tension and teasing between them is riveting. Then, every so often, there is an interruption to the musical point and counterpoint of the conversation. And at these points, the two move as one to, for example, move a canvas or (and this was a theatrical moment I’ll never forget) when they paint the red undercoat on a white canvas in silent dance-like unison. I guess this symbolised the fact that, whatever their differences, the two generations were united in their love of art.

Just as the red and black in Rothko’s paintings work with and against each other in a constant dialogue. In fact, the whole production is analogous to Rothko’s approach to painting.

It was vital to him to control how his paintings were viewed- the setting, the lighting, the mood. So, at the start of the evening, Molina is sitting silently on stage as the audience enter still chatting and settling, illustrating how art is diminished if the viewer is not concentrating on it.  

Christopher Oram‘s set impressively recreates Rothko’s studio and provides the perfect setting in which to see the play. Lighting designer Neil Austin keeps the paintings at the centre of our thoughts and makes the red of the title shimmer and glow. Director Michael Grandage has created a wondrous, flowing rhythm in both dialogue and movement.

Red is at the Wyndham’s Theatre in London until 28 July

Here’s the YouTube review of Red at Wyndham’s Theatre-

Pick of 2018 Theatre Shows

Promotional image of Rory Kinnear and Anne-Marie Duff in Macbeth at National Theatre London
Anne-Marie Duff and Rory Kinnear in Macbeth at National Theatre. Photo: Jack Davison

I had a great year of theatre going in 2017. My best evening out was at the Soho Theatre where I saw Mr Swallow in Houdini. It was an hour of continuous laughter at its cleverness, clowning and sheer madness.

As for actual comedy drama, I really enjoyed The Lie by Florian Zeller at The Menier and James Graham’s Labour Of Love with Martin Freeman and Tamsin Greig but outstanding for me was the revival of Joe Orton’s Loot at Park Theatre and The Watermill Newbury (where I saw it), now uncensored and funnier than ever.

The best musical I saw, Follies and An American In Paris notwithstanding, was On The Town at the Regents Park Open Air Theatre.

The best drama was the revival of Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf with Imelda Staunton. In fact there were many great acting performances this year- I’d also pick out Imelda Staunton again in Follies and Robert Lindsay in Prism but the crown must go to Ian McKellen as King Lear at Chichester Festival Theatre.

Looking forward to 2018

If 2017 was a good year, 2018 looks like being even better. There are so many wonderful prospects that it’s going to be very hard for we theatre lovers to choose what to see. Here’s my choice.

And straightway I’m having to choose between two productions of Macbeth. My money’s on Rory Kinnear and Anne-Marie Duff at the National Theatre (26 February – 12 May) but there’s no denying the  prospect of Christopher Eccleston and Niamh Cusack performing for the Royal Shakespeare Company (13 March – 18 September) in Stratford is hard to resist.

Promotional image of Sharon D Clarke in Caroline, Or Change at Hampstead Theatre
Sharon D Clarke in Caroline, Or Change at Hampstead Theatre

There are some fabulous musicals on their way. Tony (Angels In America) Kushner’s Caroline, or Change with Sharon D Clarke was rapturously received in Chichester. In 2018, it reappears in the lovely Hampstead Theatre (12 March – 21 April). Strictly Ballroom The Musical which I saw and loved a year ago at West Yorkshire Playhouse gets a well deserved London run at the Piccadilly Theatre (29 March – 21 July). The emotionally charged winner of five Tony Awards, Fun Home has its UK premiere at Young Vic (18 June – 1 September).

There’s a star studded production of Pinter’s The Birthday Party appropriately at the Harold Pinter Theatre (9 January – 14 April). When I say starstudded, the cast includes Toby Jones, Zoe Wannamaker and Stephen Mangan to name but three.

Promotional image of Carey Mulligan in Girls And Boys at Royal Court
Carey Mulligan in Girls And Boys at Royal Court

I thought Carey Mulligan was wonderful in Skylight so I’m looking forward to her return to the West End in a one woman play by Dennis Kelly called Girls And Boys which describes the unravelling of a relationship. That’s at the Royal Court (8 February – 17 March).

Alfred Molina reprises his 2009 success playing the painter Mark Rothko in Red at the Wyndham’s Theatre (4 May – 28 July). It will again be directed by Michael Grandage and will also star Alfred Enoch.

Near to where I live, Nuffield Southampton Theatres open their exciting city centre space with a new play by local lad Howard Brenton. The Shadow Factory looking at Southampton in the Second World War runs from 7 February to 3 March.

Happy theatregoing!

Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle

Take a chance on this love story with Anne-Marie Duff & Kenneth Cranham

(5 / 5)

Click here to see my review of Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle on the YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews

Anne-Marie Duff & Kenneth Cranham in Heisenberg The Uncertainty Principle by Simon Stephens at Wyndhams Theatre London
Anne-Marie Duff & Kenneth Cranham in Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle

I predict you’ll like Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle but whether you do or not depends on so many factors. An evening at the theatre is unpredictable, like the relationship that’s the subject of Simon Stephens’ new play.

Don’t let the title of put you off. It isn’t about quantum mechanics or science generally, it’s a charming love story, albeit an unlikely one.

The title does hint that it’s not a stereotypical romantic comedy designed to tug at our heartstrings. It’s more of a study of how two apparently incompatible people- a wild forty-something woman and a buttoned-up old man- start by thinking they want one thing to achieve contentment but end up finding something else is what they needed.

Anne-Marie Duff & Kenneth Cranham are masterful

The characters are complex and contradictory. The woman even contradicts herself in the same sentence. She is over the top with confidence when she feels in control, falls apart when she doesn’t. The man is outwardly calm but he cries without warning.

As in a good mystery story (or the science of quantum mechanics), you sense that much lies between the lines of the script. It is crammed with clues and hints about their characters and why they might be attracted. As the man says of great music, it exists in ‘the spaces between the notes’.

This calls for masterful, nuanced acting and that’s what we get from Anne-Marie Duff and Kenneth Cranham. Listening to them is like hearing a violin and cello recital.

Nodding to Heisenberg’s theories about atomic particles, the play shows that we can only ever think we know people and we can’t predict how they will behave. There’s a lot to savour in noticing how your first impression of the characters- her unbearably loud, him boringly quiet- changes as you get to know them and see them react to each other. Add to which, there is pathos in the losses that have shaped their lives, plus a lot of humour, particularly about getting old.

Marianne Elliott’s brilliant production

Bunny Christie’s fabulous minimalist white set reinforces the sense in Marianne Elliott’s brilliant production that we are observing a scientific experiment. It has no scenery or props to distract us. With each scene, the colour of Paule Constable’s lighting changes and the proscenium arch aperture alters from square to letterbox to oblong to almost crushing the woman at one point. This all affects our perception of what’s happening.

The play and the way it is presented inevitably make one think about the art of theatre. Heisenberg, in a different theory, talks about scientific experiments and the way atomic particles behave differently when observed. As an audience, we are observers. You may react differently to the person sitting next to you. Your enjoyment will be affected by that night’s audience (as will the performance). Like atomic particles, these two people’s fictional lives are changed unpredictably by each other but also by the audience’s observation of them in a play.

Simon Stephens has wrapped an unexpected love story around a fascinating look at the way theatre itself is an unpredictable experience.

Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle is at Wyndhams Theatre, London, until 6 January 2018. Click here for tickets for Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle.

Below is the review from One Minute Theatre Reviews YouTube channel