Review Round-Ups

Was Height of the Storm a storming success?

Florian Zeller’s play opened in the West End starring Eileen Atkins and Jonathan Pryce

Jonathan Pryce and Amanda Drew
Jonathan Pryce and Amanda Drew
© Hugo Glendinning

Jane Kemp, WhatsOnStage


"'There are certainly plenty of dramatic undercurrents swirling through this very sad story of a family disintegrating after loss. However, it's also a puzzling mix of hints and unresolved ideas, which perhaps reflect the mist and confusion of the dementia affecting Andre, a successful writer now almost overwhelmed by the changes threatening to flood his life."

"What no one could argue with is the superb quality of the performances. Jonathan Pryce brings a brilliantly balanced mix of bewilderment and authority to Andre, as he struggles to cope with his two daughters' bright ideas about what's best for him."

"Eileen Atkins is Madeleine, his resolutely loyal, no-nonsense wife of 50 years and the bedrock of the family. Whether the simple profundity of his play's closing scene could have been achieved without Atkins in the role is anyone's guess. But she is the beating heart of this show."

Dominic Maxwell, The Times


"It feels like a less linear variation on the French playwright's breakthrough hit The Father, in which the strange comings and goings in the life of a dementia sufferer called André became clear when we realised we were seeing the world from his perspective."

"Jonathan Pryce, that virtuoso mixer of outward stolidity and roiling inward life, has never been better. In one outburst — "Yes, yes. Right. Is that right? Yes, yes. Yes, that's right. That is right, isn't it? That's right. Right. That's right. Yes, yes, yes" — he guides us through every barely articulated beat of André's alarm, anger and vulnerability as if it were Shakespeare."

Tom Wicker, Time Out


"It takes a couple of scenes for Zeller's wordiness (via Christopher Hampton's translation) to find its rhythm. But when it does, we get a lyrical portrait of two people shaped into one by their years together but also by a past that may have contained secrets. As André loses his moorings on the present, guilt is a spectre.

"Amanda Drew and Anna Madeley have some strong scenes as the grown-up daughters floundering over how to handle their stubborn, ageing parents as well as their own lives. But Kent's production – which makes a virtue out of an atmosphere of stillness and a dripping tap – belongs to Eileen Atkins and Jonathan Pryce."

"There's an emotional intelligence to The Height of the Storm that captures, in poetic fragments, the rippling pain of a lifetime shared then torn in two, and what that means for those left behind. "

Michael Billington, Guardian


"At a single viewing, it is impossible to pin this beautifully elusive play down. What I chiefly gleaned was that there is nothing conclusive about mortality. "You think people are dead, but that's not always the case," says André at one point, and there is a pervasive sense that, after a lifetime together, a tangible memory remains. But, very much like Pinter, whom Zeller palpably admires, the play is about the non-verifiable nature of existence. "

"Pryce is magnetic as André: cussed, awkward, authoritarian, yet also baffled, bereft and helplessly dependent. It is a richly complex portrait of a man who, like his namesake in The Father, is used to controlling events only to find himself, in his twilight years, at their mercy. The superb Atkins matches him every inch of the way, making Madeleine a woman who, however affected by grief, is far better than her partner at coping with daily reality.

Natasha Tripney, The Stage


"It's repeatedly suggested that one of them may already have died, but the beauty of Zeller's play – translated, as with all his previous work, by Christopher Hampton – lies in its slipperiness and ambiguity. Nothing is solid. Time is cruel and memory is fragile. Sometimes it seems as if Madeleine is not there at all, as if she exists only in Andre's mind; at other times it's like she just popped out to tend the vegetable garden and it's he who is the ghost in his own home."

"In the past I've found Zeller's plays dispassionate and wearyingly Parisian, clever and elegant but alienating. Jonathan Kent's production does not avoid all of those pitfalls. It resists emotional excess. It's frustratingly polite and theatrically static. But it pinpoints that sense of unsteadiness that comes from seeing a once formidable parent diminished by age, the pain of the things left unsaid, the arguments unresolved, and it has a disorientating, melancholic quality that's genuinely moving."

Fiona Mountford. Evening Standard


"In his best-known work, The Father, Zeller craftily juggled with fragments of memory and reality as he led us through the Alzheimer's-infested mind of André. There's another André here, also a father to grown-up daughters, who has been married for more than 50 years to Madeleine (Eileen Atkins). "

"Jonathan Pryce captures precisely the vulnerability of a previously imperious man suddenly forced to confront a void. Atkins uses her wonderfully wry delivery to express benign frustration with her husband and daughters. These latter characters are little more than sketches, but there's briskly efficient work from Amanda Drew as the more level-headed of the pair. After André, or perhaps before him, the storm."