THERE AIN’T NOTH­ING LIKE A DAME The Height of the Storm

Wyn­d­ham’s The­atre, Lon­don un­til De­cem­ber 1

The New European - - Eurofile -

The first thing to be said about The Height of the Storm is that it is a very bor­ing play. The sec­ond thing to be said about it is that it is very well acted. I sup­pose Dame Eileen Atkins and Jonathan Pryce, the stars of this des­per­ately earnest, plod­ding pro­duc­tion, could be re­lied upon to carry things off with aplomb in just about any­thing. It is just sad to see them pair­ing up for the first time on the stage in some­thing quite as un­ut­ter­ably so­porific as Flo­rian Zeller’s piece about how an in­di­vid­ual copes with get­ting old, loss of fac­ul­ties and be­reave­ment.

It starts off with Pryce silently look­ing out of the win­dow of his book-lined ru­ral home. Si­lence is th­ese days an un­der­rated virtue in the­atre. Pryce uses it very well to com­mu­ni­cate a sense of de­spair about his sit­u­a­tion. There has clearly been a death, but as his wife – played by Atkins – ap­pears and he en­gages her in con­ver­sa­tion, it’s not en­tirely clear whether he has lost her, or she has lost him.

Even­tu­ally it turns out to be the for­mer case and the old boy is still chat­ting away to her be­cause de­men­tia has set in. I don’t mean to sound cal­lous, but get­ting old isn’t, by and large, much fun. That we all know. The prob­lem with this play is that it tells us noth­ing new and con­tains no great in­sights.

The­atre gen­er­ally re­quires things to hap­pen ev­ery now and again, and char­ac­ters should oc­ca­sion­ally get to say things that are clever or funny, or in some way mem­o­rable, or maybe ed­u­ca­tional, but Zeller doesn’t feel the need to give his au­di­ence any­thing of the kind dur­ing the 80 tor­tu­ously long min­utes this show runs.

It all feels like look­ing through the key­hole of an el­derly and re­cently be­reaved neigh­bour: in­dulging not so much in voyeurism as grief porn. The bril­liance of the act­ing ac­tu­ally makes this feel­ing all the more acute. Amanda Drew and Anna Made­ley play the daugh­ters who, in the modern way of the world, are fret­ting about what to do about their dad, with­out ei­ther of them ac­tu­ally want­ing to be lum­bered with him her­self. The cir­cum­lo­cu­tion they both em­ploy in their con­ver­sa­tions with him and each other is all too fa­mil­iar.

One of the girls has a ghastly es­tate agent boyfriend in tow, who is played by James Hil­lier, with a won­der­ful sense of in­dif­fer­ence to the sen­si­tive sit­u­a­tion he finds him­self in.

Jonathan Kent di­rects with con­sum­mate pro­fes­sion­al­ism and An­thony Ward’s set is mag­nif­i­cent. Atkins is, most of all, an un­al­loyed plea­sure. With Mag­gie Smith and Judi Dench now re­luc­tant to put them­selves through the rigours of a long stage run, she is the last of the great dames we get to see tread­ing the boards th­ese days. I only wish, with all this tal­ent as­sem­bled, some­thing more worth­while could have been found for them all to do.

Photo: Con­trib­uted

OLD MAS­TER: Jonathan Pryce shines as a de­men­tia suf­ferer

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