The Height of the Storm

Posted on 7 November 2018

At first, I was confused about what was happening, particularly by the way in which the characters spoke of their parents or spouses in the past tense along with the references to the “situation “ and the “condition” which Andre had.

Were the spouses remembering their lives together, or were they living in the present? Were the discussions about events and incidents false memories created by grief, or the trauma of the “condition?” Or was it a ghost story? As The Height of the Storm progressed the fog lifted, the confusion was a deliberate reflection of how dementia affected a key character.

The clever writing, dialogue and excellent acting present an authentic recreation of how dementia can affect the sufferer and their family. The set, comprising of a gorgeous house with book-lined walls, high ceilings and a country kitchen, allows the actors to move naturally between scenes and on, off and about the stage. One character leads the conversation with another character whilst key characters such as Andre, or Madeleine,  remain on the stage ignored, adding to the confusion. This creates the impression that you are glimpsing events from the corner of your eyes, not really understanding what is happening, which emphasises Andre’s perspective.

For different reasons, the parents (the brilliant Jonathan Pryce as the bewildered, angry, fleetingly happy Andre and the superb Dame Eileen Atkins who gives a nuanced performance as a matter-of-fact, stoic and sometimes blunt  Madeleine) and their adult daughters (Amanda Drew as Anne and Anna Madeley as Elise), each seemed to be in a state of denial. They refuse to confront: the “situation”, Andre’s “condition,” their own difficult love lives and Andre’s past relationship with a younger woman. It is unclear what the nature of the relationship was, however, it is probable that it was sexual. But because the family dynamics mean that they skirt around issues, we can never be sure.

Every family has their patterns of behaviour and despite or maybe because of being intellectuals, this family are experts at avoidance and allusion. They do not want to face up to issues which cause emotional or psychological pain. The siblings convincingly relapse into old quarrels about who is the favourite. Andre revisits daily routines from the point of his life when just he and Madeleine are living alone together. Incidents from the past revisit Andre. It seems as if Madeleine is haunting him and is always there, particularly as their daughters cannot see her when Andre can. However we know it is the dementia which has conjured these manifestations, isn’t it?

The Height of the Storm is playing at Wyndham's Theatre. It closes its extremely limited run 1 December. Book The Height of the Storm tickets now to make sure you have a chance to enjoy these stunning actors bring a brilliant script to life.

Sandra Howell

By Sandra Howell

Since I was a child and now as an adult, I have loved performing, as an amateur, in choirs and the theatre. As a theatre goer my tastes are broad, I relish musical theatre and dance.  I am passionate about plays by a huge range of writers. I am excited by the wide variety of contemporary plays which entertain, challenge and make me feel deeply.

10 years after a life-threatening road traffic collision left me disabled, I retired from working as a National Officer of a trade union. In recent years, I have been inspired to write short fiction after attending creative writing courses. In 2017, I began writing theatre reviews and I am thrilled by the opportunities to combine two of my loves: live theatre and writing.