Writer: Tim Price
Director: Michael Longhurst
A near miss with an avalanche while holidaying on the French Alps leads Ebba to re-evaluate her marriage in this adaptation of Ruben Östlund’s hit film of 2014. Full of colour, the Donmar Warehouse’s production looks good, but Force Majeure is basically an old-fashioned play about marriage where the drawing-room is swapped for the ski-slope.
Rory Kinnear is right at home as Tomas, Ebba’s feckless husband. Tomas is a pompous workaholic, and a cowardly secret smoker, and Kinnear plays him well and his comic timing is dependably good, but we have seen him in roles such as this before. When an avalanche threatens to drop onto the terrace where he and his family are having lunch, Tomas flees, even pushing a waiter out of the way. If living creatures only react to crisis in two different ways, then Tomas has clearly chosen flight above fight.
The avalanche is the best part of this otherwise very talky play with dry ice filling the auditorium. Jon Bausor’s imaginative set holds many surprises – even a functioning lift – and every scene is played on a stage that is angled at an alarming gradient. If the constant bickering of Ebba and Tomas becomes too much, one can instead wonder at how chairs, tables and wineglasses can remain upright in spite of gravity.
Lyndsey Marshal is Ebba, and while her portrayal is sympathetic, her character’s journey from disbelief to the bottle is familiar, and it is only in the last 10 minutes where the story provides the audience with a few surprises. Their children, moody and, occasionally, brattish, are played flawlessly (in roles that are shared) by Florence Hunt and Henry Hunt, and the family arguments seem realistic enough, but they are repetitive and wearying.
Siena Kelly and Sule Rimi as fellow skiers Jenny and Mats initially bring some energy to the play, but soon they, too, are quarrelling and the theme of male insecurity is laid on as thick as the snow that presumably is piled up outside their hotel. Director Michael Longhurst attempts to bring in some visual comedy with the inopportune appearances of fellow skiers and hotel employees seemingly donning different costumes each time. A few of these scenes are funny, but most seem there to extend the show’s running time.
Force Majeure is an overly safe choice for the Donmar Warehouse, and would have brought some festive cheer if Covid hadn’t stopped most of the pre-Christmas performances. But in the clear light of January, it would have been better if the Donmar had gone off-piste.
Runs until 5 February 2022