Love, loss and unbearable pain of absence are explored with insight and sensitivity in French playwright Florian Zeller's beautifully crafted family drama, The Height of the Storm (Wyndham's Theatre), translated by Christopher Hampton and directed by Jonathan Kent.
The action centres on the irascible French novelist Andre, suffering from dementia and facing a very uncertain future. A father to two grown up daughters, Anne and Elise, Andre is unable to accept that his wife of 50 years, Madeleine, is dead. Or is she? When we meet Madeleine, she seems to be recently widowed and declares that Andre "made me promise to outlive him." At other times we see the couple together, coping with the daily routines of life, arguing with and about their offspring and confronting a woman from the past who turns up, claiming to have a prolonged friendship with the bewildered Andre.
Indeed, from the very start there's an unsettling sense that something is not quite right and it is further compounded when a bunch of flowers arrives out of the blue. Either Andre or Madeleine has died, but which one? Zeller skilfully interweaves layers of time and memory in this elegiac meditation on ageing, frailty and loneliness, while Anthony Ward's elegant high-ceilinged house and Hugh Vanstone's subtle changes of lighting add much to the mood and atmosphere of the play.
The production is further enhanced by magnetic performances from two of our most esteemed actors. Jonathan Pryce captures perfectly the vulnerability of a previously imperious man suddenly forced to confront a void as Andre. It is a richly complex portrait of a man who is used to controlling events, only to find himself in his twilight years at their mercy. Eileen Atkins, on the other hand, uses her wonderfully wry delivery to express frustration with her husband and daughters. She makes Madeleine a woman of fortitude who, however affected by grief, is far better than her partner at coping with reality.
Strong support is provided by Amanda Drew as the pragmatic, filially devoted Anne and Anna Madeley as the more flighty, irresponsible Elise.
This then is a compassionate, deeply moving play that teases the mind, while touching the heart.
The Height of the Storm
Runs until Saturday 1 December 2018 at Wyndhams Theatre.
Box office: 0844 482 5120Last modified: October 17, 2018