Jonathan Pryce & Eileen Atkins shine in confusing drama(3 / 5)
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.
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