The Height of the Storm
** NOW AT THE WYNDHAMS THEATRE IN THE WEST END **
In a recent interview Jonathan Pryce remembers the first time he read the play 'I thought 'what is that?'. It felt like a puzzle. And then I left it and read it again two days later and it made me cry,' he adds. 'But I always recall a tutor at drama school saying that as an actor, it’s your job to ensure that it is the audience who are crying, not you.'
The play’s puzzle is who are this troubled man and wife? Are they really alive or imagined from the past? Which of them has survived? André the famous writer whose daughter Anne (very convincingly played by Amanda Drew) is combing through his books and private papers or his capable loving and all-understanding wife Madeleine (a so-seemingly ordinary Eileen Atkins).
They’ve been married for 50 years and know each other inside out, so it’s hard in this utterly brilliant play to decipher which character is which. Playwright Florian Zeller fuses them so deftly, the reality of who has lost whom is initially quite lost and then gradually emerges in a chilling revelation.
He got the inspiration for the play on the day of his own marriage (he’s a youthful debonair Parisian). Looking out from the hotel where he and his wife were on honeymoon, he saw a couple walking together, old but so interested in one another and completely as one, that he was struck by the poignancy of their enduring love and care. The play apparently wrote itself.
Like the amazing box office hit, Art, this play is translated from the French by English playwright Christopher Hampton with little short of genius. He is so in control of the language; there is no sense of these people being anything but familiar, nuanced under-stated English, a couple who know each other well – but as it merges in an excruciating scene, not at all as a mysterious disturbing stranger comes into the life.
Here is an exceptional play about humanity, akin to Chekov’s nuanced work, a play that insists on opening up fears and longings we normally (we Brits probably more than those French over there) keep carefully guarded. To watch it is an emotional awakening. It is not to be missed.