A real avalanche on stage
“This is what happens when you raise strong independent children: you get thrown out of your own room!”
I always remember David Lan saying that what we take away from theatre is the images, the visual. Michael Longhurst the Artistic Director at the Donmar Warehouse doesn’t produce a play without spectacular or very memorable images. So if you weren’t able because of Covid restrictions to go skiing this year, put on your ski jacket and go to the Donmar Warehouse for an unique and exciting stage setting of Force Majeure.
The play adapted for the stage by Tim Price is based on the 2014 Swedish film of the same name by Ruben Östlund which won a prize at Cannes. I haven’t seen the film so I come fresh to it as a play, neither have I thankfully seen the 2020 American adaptation starring Will Ferrell.
The play is not really about skiing or a family skiing holiday. It is about a marriage of two people who do not see each other because of his employment commitments. There are times when he has claimed to have a work meeting but in fact done something else more pleasurable but not adultery.
It is his actions when faced with an avalanche at the resort that bring into the main frame his wife’s dissatisfaction with her marriage. Rory Kinnear plays Tomas and Lyndsey Marshall his wife Ebba. On holiday with them is their bored teenage daughter Vera (Florence Hunt on the night I saw or Bo Bragason) and her younger brother hyper Harry (Henry Hunt again or Oliver Savell).
Apart from Tomas’s behaviour during the avalanche, Ebba has also been unsettled by meeting Charlotte (Nathalie Armin) a married woman on holiday without her family in search of sexual adventure as well as skiing. Ebba’s reaction to this is very un-Swedish by reputation as she closely questions Charlotte as to how that works with her husband; but that may also be to do with Lyndsey’s Marshall’s rather grim performance as Ebba. Certainly I didn’t warm to her.
It seems there is a pattern of dishonesty by Tomas for which the crisis point is the avalanche. Rory Kinnear is perfectly cast as the man with whom his wife continually finds fault and we see how she also gets the children to think like her. There is one instance of blatant manipulation when Ebba fakes an injury to bolster a positive view of their father from the children Vera and Harry.
What makes this production very special is not the plot but the sensational design by Jon Bausor of the Alpine mountain backdrop, the stage set at 45 degrees and covered with soft white “snow” so that people can ski down the diagonal from our right to left. This is so innovative and exciting. Sasha Milavic Davies’s movement has detailed turns and arm actions for the family skiing, often without wearing skis. Ski poles are lit in different colours on the edges of the stage to provide atmosphere.
There are loud bangs which Tomas explains to the children are controlled avalanches to keep them safe. When the actual real avalanche arrives, it is loud and the stage is full of white smoke, a scene you are unlikely to ever forget. There is a lift which opens in the backdrop to convey skiers up the slopes and in the hotel. A bed pivots up for the hotel scenes and in the café, tables and chairs are set precariously on the slope. Skiers in colourful outfits gather with extra bright lighting justifying the cast wearing ski goggles.
I find the link of the play to climate change not to be primary. My overarching feeling about this play is fascination with its magnificent setting rather than its storyline but maybe I shall have to see the film to judge the original.
Adapted by Tim Price from Reuben Östlund’s film
Directed by Michael Longhurst
Bo Bragason/Florence Hunt
Oliver Savell/Henry Hunt
Director: Michael Longhurst
Designer: Jon Bausor
Movement Design: Sasha Milavic Davies
Lighting Designer: Lucy Carter
Sound Designer: Donato Wharton
Fight Director: Bret Yount
Running Time: Two hours 2o minutes with an interval
Booking to 5th Febuary 2022
London WC2H 9LX
020 3282 3808
Train: Covent Garden/Leicester Square
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge at the
at the Donmar Warehouse at the
on 6th January 2022