The Theatreguide.London Review
Height Of The Storm
Wyndham's Theatre Autumn-Winter 2018
An ageing man beginning to slip into dementia attempts to cope with the death of his beloved wife by imagining her still alive. But his control over his brain is imperfect, and he keeps losing hold of his illusion, even slipping at moments into a version in which he is the one who died.
This being a play by Florian Zeller, the audience is taken along on this mental journey, with reality, illusion, memory and wish-fulfilment all presented onstage with equal solidity, leaving it for us to sort out which is which.
The Height Of The Storm bears the closest resemblance to The Father, the first of several Zeller plays to be seen in London in recent years. But it has more to it than just (just!) the depiction of a mind losing control.
Zeller's technical cleverness makes a deep and serious point, that the dead do indeed remain alive in our hearts and memories, so that in remembering them we hear their voices and see their faces as if they were still there.
Director Jonathan Kent has sensitive antennae that pick up all the play's emotional and psychological resonances, and he has guided his cast to impeccable performances.
Jonathan Pryce finds a coherence and continuity in a man who is sometimes mentally not present and sometimes straining to control everything around him, by showing a dual core of determination to retain his dignity and overpowering love for his wife.
Eileen Atkins, here as always an absolute master of underplaying, quietly affirms the wife's reality and presence even as the play insists that she is in fact not there.
Amanda Drew and Anna Madeley play the couple's grown daughters, generously allowing the play to dismiss them and their concerns as trivial and irrelevant in the shadow of their parents' love story.
Zeller's experienced translator-adapter Christopher Hampton does his usual fine job of capturing the subtleties in the playwright's deceptively simple language that can move from the quietly powerful, as when the ghostly wife assures her husband that she will never leave him, to the quietly comic, as when the same woman dismisses the daughters as shallow and irrelevant in a throw-away zinger.
Like all of Florian Zeller's plays, The Height Of The Storm is not for those who want simplistic plots and characters spoon-fed to them. But if you're willing to be a bit confused from time to time, and to do some of the work of sorting out what is actually happening, the play will hold and move you for its unbroken eighty minutes.
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