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The Height of the Storm

Review - The Height of the Storm at the Wyndham's Theatre

Mark Shenton
Mark Shenton

Not so much offering the height of a dramatic storm as a gentle, elusive breeze of a play, Florian Zeller's latest observant theatrical miniature of family relationships is full of studied - and sometimes stilted - elegance.

The prolific Parisian playwright has occupied this jewel-box of a West End theatre twice before, with transfers of his plays The Father (from Bath's Ustinov Theatre) in 2015 and The Truth (from the Menier Chocolate Factory) in 2016, and like Yasmina Reza - whose biggest hit Art also began its life here -- he is the perfect boulevardier playwright. There's thought and feeling in his plays, and also a sense of formal adventurousness to their often slippery structures. Yet they're also not too taxing (unlike Tom Stoppard) or too tedious (unlike David Hare). And they're short (none run longer than 90 minutes).

They also offer great acting opportunities, often for senior actors. Kenneth Cranham was spellbinding and heartbreaking in The Father, as a patriarch suffering the advancing confusions and indignities of dementia. Jonathan Kent's production of The Height of the Storm now offers the luxury casting of stage veterans Jonathan Pryce (now 71) and Eileen Atkins (now 84), and its always a privilege to be in their presence.

They play a long-married couple, whose time together has come to an end when one of them dies. They chart, with expert precision, their mutual dependency and sense of deep familiarity. But there's also a long-held secret, and that age-old dramatic device - the arrival of a stranger in their midst - may or may not hold the key to a different past.

As ever with Zeller, he plays fast and free with form and time frames: we're never meant to be certain where exactly we are in the shifting narrative and interplay, as their two daughters (and one of their husbands) make an appearance, too.  

There's brittleness as well as bitterness here, but not an altogether satisfying sense of dramatic momentum. As with Harold Pinter's intense marital drama Old Times, there's a fractured, displaced quality here that's open to multiple interpretations. Some may enjoy trying to put it together; others, like me, are left frustrated, while still admiring the cool atmosphere and gorgeous performances of the cast.

The Height of the Storm is at the Wyndham's Theatre until 1st December.

The Height of the Storm tickets are available now

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