Jonathan Pryce and Eileen Atkins star in the West End premiere of The Height of the Storm, which has now opened to rave reviews at the Wyndham’s Theatre in London’s West End.
Written by the esteemed French playwright Florian Zeller, The Height of the Storm is a beautifully compelling family drama about loss and the fragility of memory.
Pryce and Atkins play a married couple, Andre and Madeline, who have weathered many storms in their 50 years together. From the beginning, there is a strange sense that one of them may have already died but like Zeller’s play The Father, this piece is elusive, nothing is ever certain and the beauty lies in its ambiguity.
The production is directed by Jonathan Kent with translation by Christopher Hampton, who has now translated six of Zeller’s plays into English.
The cast also features Amanda Drew, Anna Madeley, James Hillier and Lucy Cohu.
Read a round-up of reviews below.
The Guardian, ★★★★
“As directed by Jonathan Kent, translated by Christopher Hampton and performed by Jonathan Pryce and Eileen Atkins, it offers a deeply moving study of love, loss and the unbearable pain of absence. The parallels with The Father are striking.
At a single viewing, it is impossible to pin this beautifully elusive play down. What I chiefly gleaned was that there is nothing conclusive about mortality.
Everything is fluid but there is nothing vague or dreamy about either Kent’s production or Hampton’s translation, which meticulously chart the intimacies and tensions of family life.
I can’t pretend to have got all aspects of this slippery, poetic play, but, as a colleague once said of Pinter, there is a positive pleasure in not understanding everything. What I can say for certain is that Zeller’s play penetrates the memory long after one has left the theatre.’
Michael Billington, The Guardian
The Telegraph, ★★★
“Bleak mind games that are too elaborate by half. Arguably the most successful French playwright on the London stage since Jean Anouilh, Florian Zeller, 39, is fascinated as an artist with our fragile grasp on reality, above all the tendency of the mind to play tricks on us, to let us down – and the way that can make us laugh and drive us to tears.”
Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph
The Stage, ★★★★
“Disorientating and melancholic. Florian Zeller’s slippery and moving new play explores familiar themes of loss and the fragility of memory.
Atkins handles the temporal fluctuations of the play incredibly well, but Zeller clearly favours the character of Andre – he even shares a name with the protagonist of The Father.
It’s frustratingly polite and theatrically static. But it pinpoints that sense of unsteadiness that comes from seeing a once formidable parent diminished by age, the pain of the things left unsaid, the arguments unresolved, and it has a disorientating, melancholic quality that’s genuinely moving.”
Natasha Tripney, The Independent
Evening Standard, ★★★★
“No dry eyes in nerve-jangling study of aging. From the very start, there’s an unsettling sense that something is not quite right in this elegant, high-ceilinged house with its subtle changes of lighting. Either André or Madeleine has died, but which one?
Zeller silkily interweaves layers of time and memory in this elegiac meditation on ageing, frailty and loneliness, fluidly rendered in Christopher Hampton’s translation.
Pryce captures precisely the vulnerability of a previously imperious man suddenly forced to confront a void. Atkins uses her wonderfully wry delivery to express benign frustration with her husband and daughters. These latter characters are little more than sketches, but there’s briskly efficient work from Amanda Drew as the more level-headed of the pair. After André, or perhaps before him, the storm.”
Fiona Mountford, Evening Standard
“A play that defies explanation, yet still grips — thanks largely to its two central performances.
I still don’t know what objective situation The Height of the Storm depicts, but I don’t think Zeller does either, and that’s not in any way a criticism.
The brief coda to the 80-minute piece is its key: André and Madeleine left alone, quietly hymning their closeness to each other through their 50-year marriage. Alive or dead, the pair survive as a composite entity, defining each other as well as themselves. It’s a play that’s almost impossible to decipher, but not at all difficult to understand.”
Ian Shuttleworth, FT
Daily Mail, ★★★★
“Dame Eileen and Pryce, a wonderfully watchable stage marriage. This is not a faultless evening. At times you wish the script would crack on with things. A couple of the minor characters feel contrived. Dame Eileen is no more French than a rasping Hampstead bluestocking and I could have done with 10 per cent more tenderness between the old duo.
Although it makes for a melancholy evening – a tearful one, even – it has, at its core, a depiction of a strong marriage, and two wonderfully watchable performances by top-class stage artists.”
Quentin Letts, Daily Mail
Time Out, ★★★★
“Jonathan Pryce and Eileen Atkins shine in this elliptical drama from Florian Zeller.
It takes a couple of scenes for Zeller’s wordiness (via Christopher Hampton’s translation) to find its rhythm. But when it does, we get a lyrical portrait of two people shaped into one by their years together but also by a past that may have contained secrets. As André loses his moorings on the present, guilt is a spectre.
There’s an emotional intelligence to ‘The Height of the Storm’ that captures, in poetic fragments, the rippling pain of a lifetime shared then torn in two, and what that means for those left behind. This is slyly the story of a haunted house, with ghosts at the kitchen table.”
Tom Wicker, Time Out
The Height of the Storm is performing until 1 December at the Wyndham’s Theatre, London.