This new drama is playing at The Wyndham’s Theatre (official link) and with the two leading cast members of Jonathan Pryce and Eileen Atkins I was immediately intrigued.
The Height of the Storm is a family drama by Florian Zeller and is a major new play from the writer of The Father (which won an Olivier Award) and is a searing exploration of love, family and the fragility of life. Running at about 1 hour and 30 minutes (without an interval) this production centres around André and Madeleine who have been in love for over fifty years. One weekend as their daughters visit, a bunch of flowers arrives, but who sent them? This creates tension in the family and when a woman from the past turns up more questions are asked – Who is she? And why does André feel like he isn’t there at all?
I booked my ticket for a preview performance and managed to get a seat at the top of the house (in front of the standing room area) and this was a good seat which despite not being the most comfortable as it has a thin cushion base but gave an excellent view.
The set is fantastic. It is open when you enter the auditorium and this gives you time to take it all in.
The play is set in the kitchen of the family home and the set reflects this brilliantly and I feel is best shown in a picture from the Evening Standard’s review (photo credit: Hugo Glendinning) as below:
Back stage right is an exit to the garden and we can see through the windows on stage right, the trees of the garden and the vegetable patch mentioned in the play. The passageway to the outdoors is littered with boots, chairs and jackets. On stage left is the main hallway into the kitchen and this kid used by the characters who enter the home. It is also where actors exit to access other areas of the house (like bedrooms). The main stage itself is very atmospheric with kitchen gadgets and worktops along stage right and a large dining table in the centre of the stage. A brilliantly atmospheric set that works well for the production. During the piece a screen is lowered whilst the set is changed between acts and this screen is a mesh with the silhouette of an old tree on in white relief, this adds to the passing of time for the piece as well as allowing the set to be changed.
All the cast are superb and there are times when actors are off stage but their presence is felt.
Jonathan Pryce (playing André) is excellent as the elder father who appears confused at times yet fully aware of what’s happening at other times. He has a great stage presence that works really well for his character meaning that even without lines you feel his presence and this encroaches onto whatever speech is taking place. He also plays the mood swings brilliantly Which also keeps you on your toes. His interaction with his wife, Madeleine (Dame Eileen Atkins) are excellent and I’m never sure if he is being abrupt, rude or just himself. I love the opening scene where he simply on stage with no speech for several minutes allowing the audience to take in the scene and the feeling of the place. Playing a strong yet confused but also admired by his family character. Excellent.
Dame Eileen Atkins (playing Madeleine) is superb as the almost suffering wife who is strong and will stand up to André (Jonathan Pryce) but also allows us to see the love that she has for him. I love the way she comes and goes within the scenes almost ghost like. She has great diction and this works well for the role and her experience on stage is evident and this ensures that you hear some of the subtle jokes. She has an excellent way of implying things without saying them which greatly adds to the tension of the piece too. implications. I love the repeated “mushroom“ scene which caught your attention and made you wonder if it’s a dream or reality. Excellent.
Amanda Drew (playing Anne) is excellent as the almost over caring daughter, where we get to see possibly what her ideas are and plans for this property – to start you’re not sure if she’s just after the money and has a play goes on you realise that she’s also caring for the family. She plays in motion very well going from a normal relaxed human To one that is being defensive when challenged. I loved the scene with her and Elsie (Anna Madeley) which draws on the audiences own experiences of siblings. Excellent.
Anna Madeley (playing Elsie) is great as the slightly frantic daughter who clearly has a life of her own and yet has put that on hold to come visit her father. The feelings of how she is balancing her own life with family life struck a chord with several members of the audience. I like her interaction with her sibling Anne (Amanda Drew) when we get to see sibling rivalry at its best or is it at its worst as each try to deal with their raging parents and the situation whilst not actually wanting to deviate from their own lives (very topical!) I also liked her interaction with The Man (James Hillier) which gave us an insight into her private family status and relationship adding to her ‘business’.
Lucy Cohu (playing The Woman) is bold and Innocent when she arrives. You really do feel it’s like an old friend that has reappeared into their lives yet there is an underlying ‘what happened’ flowing through it too. She has a good presence on stage and adds to the mix of feelings being portrayed especially when André (Jonathan Pryce) is on set with her.
James Hillier (playing The Man) playing the current boyfriend of Elsie (Anna Madeley) he is a strong character which adds to the confusion with his comments on valuations of properties and the family home. He has a strong voice which works well for the character and makes it his own. Through out his piece, you are never sure if his place in the family or his commitment to it. This is best illustrated by his relationship with Elsie.
Overtake this is an extremely watchable play which draws you into the family with their politics, interactions and secrets. It raises questions of later life and what happens when we are elder, especially if things from the past come back to us. An excellent cast ensure that you feel the characters dilemas and pains yet also empathise with them. A must see.