Such pleasure in watching Jonathan Pryce and Eileen Atkins onstage plus The Height of the Storm at the Wyndham’s Theatre is great for post-show reconstruction of this deconstructed story
“What would I do without you?
What would become of me without you?”
As Florian Zeller returns to the London stage with his latest play The Height of the Storm, you get something of the sense that British theatre is patting itself on the back saying ‘look, we do do European theatre’. But as with Ivo van Hove’s continued presence here, there’s a risk that familiarity will breed contempt as the risk of employing European theatremakers is mitigated by picking the same ones over and over.
Which is a bit of a long-winded way of saying that, whilst I enjoyed this immensely, I wonder if we’re approaching diminishing returns territory with Zeller. The Father was an extraordinary piece of storytelling in its disorientating structure and The Height of the Storm occupies a similar territory as we join long-married André and Madeleine and their two daughters and try to work out who is alive, who is dead, and just how many mushrooms there are onstage.
It really is so cleverly structured. André mourns Madeleine, Madeleine laments surviving her husband, they chat honestly about how good it is when their children leave at the end of their inevitably fraught visit. They also try and untangle who this particular woman is, who has a connection to André’s past that he can’t quite get a handle on. And many, many mushrooms are peeled. Scenes fold back on each other, lines of dialogue echo from person to person, nothing finds a tidy resolution.
And I think that is why I enjoyed Jonathan Kent’s production so much. It revels in the tangled web it weaves, pointing at the devastating confusion that comes with the loss of a dearly loved one and the way in which memories can be triggered by the seemingly most innocuous of items. In the hands of Jonathan Pryce and Eileen Atkins every line becomes freighted with such significance, particularly as they talk about being the one who has to live on without the other.
They’re supported by strong work from Amanda Drew and Anna Madeley as their daughters, plus there’s gorgeously luminous work from Lucy Cohu as that mysterious visitor in Anthony Ward’s detailed design. So why complain? Having opened the door to European drama, it would just be good to delve a little deeper into the pool of talent there. In the meantime, this will certainly do.