He Says: The Height of the Storm – Another Thunderously Stellar West End Import

He Says: The Height of the Storm – Another Thunderously Stellar West End Import

Violins lull us into the dreamlike vision of one of my many moments of West End regret whenever I travel to London for a theatre week. I never can find the time to see all that I want to, so I found myself standing outside the Wyndham Theatre where The Height of the Storm was playing the last time I was there, trying my best to figure out a way to find the time to see this new exploration. Written by the incomparable Florian Zeller, with a beautiful translation by Christopher Hampton, this mindful meditation on the crumbling connections within a family pulled at me on that London street corner. Hampton, having translated most of Florian’s hurricane of good plays; The FatherThe Mother, and The Son, finds the poetic soul inside the fog of despair and forgetfulness, just like he did the stunning Le Père a few years ago at the Manhattan Theater Club. All seem to delve into the same ripe and arresting fruit that surround the decimation of reason and thought within a fractured mind. Le Mère aimed its attention on a woman’s mind twisting before our very eyes, but like The Father, The Height…draws the eye of the hurricane directly to the harrowing effects of Alzheimer’s and death, spiraling up and exaggerated by grief and loss, not just of the man, but also the family that surrounds him.

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Eileen Atlkins, Jonathan Pryce. Photo by Joan Marcus.

The wind and the rain of this storm rips in at our “ability to love one another to the end“, soaking us in what is one of the most touching and engaging creations of family, death, and longing around. “People are dead, but not always“, they say, and Jonathan Pryce (London/Broadway’s Comedians, Miss Siagon) playing “not the most courageous man” André, fluctuates between seeing and believing in that very state. He’s been married to the gorgeously present Madeleine, portrayed with a compassionate grace by the stellar Eileen Atkins (MTC/Broadway’s Doubt, Netflix’s ‘The Crown’) for half a century, and with these two dynamic actors at the helm, the connection and bond are visceral and undeniable. They breath life and compassion into every moment and every plane of emotional connection. “Madeleine, I’m here, look at me!“, and how can we not, as she is the most alive person on that stage, chopping and engaging with earthbound glee.

As directed with a cunning force by Jonathan Kent (Broadway’s Long Day’s Journey…), the pathway along the riverbank of one’s disintegrating mind is seen as a dangerous and confusing journey, littered with devastating roots and memories to slip and fall to our deaths. It’s a grey windy dreamscape or a torrential nightmare that one may never wake from, as well as finding the way to being both poetic and heartbreakingly engaging. Anne, the serious daughter, played strongly by Amanda Drew (RSC’s Eastward Ho!) sinks into the web, and struggles to understand the situation, especially surrounding The Woman, dynamically portrayed by Lucy Cohu (Almeida’s A Delicate Balance). The other daughter, Élise, played with an authentic force by Lisa O’Hare (Encores’ Me and My Girl), has her own burden to weather, namely in the form of The Man, beautifully embodied by James Hillier (Royal Court’s Torn). The others add to the weight drama, but the true beauty lies in the couple, and in the way they look at each other.

Lucy Cohu, Eileen Atlkins, Amanda Drew, Jonathan Pryce, Lisa O’Hare. Photo by Joan Marcus.

On a masterful set of tilted misty vision by scenic and costume designer Anthony Ward (West End/Broadway’s Mary Stuart), with exacting and carefully orchestrated lighting by Hugh Vanstone (Broadway’s Hillary and Clinton), exemplary sound design by Paul Groothius (NT’s Follies), and stunningly compelling original music by Gary Yershon (West End/Broadway’s The Norman Conquests), the multi-layered structure is solidly in place, exacting out a complicated creation that one needs to lean in to fully stay with. This isn’t a simplistic piece of theatre, entertaining one’s mind on a Friday night, but a compelling web of inter-connective neuron pathways converging and exploding with quiet intensity right before us. The actors make it look easy, but seeing them work is a gift that should not be forgotten. It’s an impossible promise that is broken, but a connection that remains solidly intact, and it will resonate like lightning on a far off horizon long into the stormy night. We can only stand and stare, honoring the work and their craftsmanship.

Amanda Drew, Jonathan Pryce. Photo by Joan Marcus.

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My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to

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