Review: The Height of the Storm at Cambridge Arts Theatre Pryce and Atkins make the perfect couple

Eileen Atkins and Jonathan Pryce in The Height of the Storm

Eileen Atkins and Jonathan Pryce in The Height of the Storm - Credit: Archant

This is a clever play. So much so that you might feel you want to see it twice to understand it.

Certainly, the chemistry between Dame Eileen Atkins and Jonathan Pryce feels tangible and their performances are perfection. Atkins is a delight.

Florian Zeller’s play, translated by Christopher Hampton, deals with loss, both memory loss and the loss of someone you have loved for a very long time.

The structure of the play goes back and forth in time. It centres on a couple, Andre and Madeleine (Pryce and Aitkins) who have been married for 50 years and have two daughters.

One of them has died, the other has confusion. At first, we are not sure which is which.

Reality and memory are mixed up - not just their memories but their children’s too.

Their two daughters are at a loss to know how to cope with their parents’ plight and stubborness. Though one, Elise (Anna Madeley) is slightly more focused on her new relationship with an estate agent, (ably played by James Hillier) which brings a bit of levity to the drama. While others are grieving, He is eyeing up the house.

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We see both characters, Andre and Madeleine so that we are immersed in their long, comfortable and rich relationship. They have a deep understanding of each other.

But it transpires that only one of them is still living. Both their spouse and their children have conversions with the lost person in their heads. How true it is that even when people die they are to some extent still with us. We hear their voices in our own. We repeat their sayings.

We know, or imagine we know, their reactions to what we do. If we do not fear their judgement, we are aware of it.

And Alzheimer’s is a kind of death because so much of that person becomes lost to us - and lost to them.

This play is an imaginative piece of theatre, helped by designer Anthony Ward’s inviting set of a comfortable French country house, which is an extension of the two main characters’ personalities.

Director Jonathan Kent has given us a tight, ensemble production and paints a portrait of a real family with foibles, weaknesses and sometimes their disappointment in each other.

It is forceful, strong and memorable.

The Height of the Storm is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, September 15..