Force Majeure review: Unashamedly showy trip down the slopes is a treat

·2-min read
The cast of Force Majeure  (Marc Brenner)
The cast of Force Majeure (Marc Brenner)

An incredible, functioning ski slope by designer Jon Bausor is the centrepiece of this compelling exploration of trust and guilt. On holiday in the French alps, fortysomething parents Tomas and Ebba find themselves faced with an apparent avalanche. She shields their two children: he grabs his phone and runs, screaming.

It’s debatable whether Tim Price’s adaptation adds anything of narrative value to the source material, Ruben Östlund’s wickedly funny Swedish film from 2014. If anything it’s less subtle. But seeing the moral debate acted out live, and seeing the way director Michael Longhurst compresses dazzling alpine expanses into the Donmar, is undeniably thrilling.

His unashamedly showy production – packed with dayglo winterwear, a Eurobeat soundtrack and skiers swishing through the audience – is emotionally anchored by Rory Kinnear, superbly shifty as the compromised Tomas. There’s really no one better at showing the mulish resentment that masks abject shame. Countless micro-emotions skitter across his face as he tries to find a way to portray himself as the victim. His attempts at heartiness are deliciously excruciating.

He’s matched by Lyndsey Marshal as the furious but pragmatic Ebba, and by the young actors (Henry Hunt and Florence Hunt at the performance I saw) playing their children. One of the pleasing things about the story is the way the crisis plays out against the details of ordinary family exasperation – the kids and Tomas hooked on their phones, the frustration over lost sunglasses and boots, resentments surfacing after too much wine.

 (Marc Brenner)
(Marc Brenner)

A parallel couple, Tomas’s friend Mats and his new young girlfriend Jenny (Sule Rimi and Siena Kelly, both very funny) get drawn into the dispute and act as proxies for the audience. They, like everyone watching, ask themselves: what would I have done?

There’s an attractive supporting ensemble. Even the comical janitor, always interrupting moments of high tension with his vacuum cleaner, is super-handsome. Longhurst’s production is as easy on the eye as it is emotionally merciless.

The set and lighting, the stylised ski scenes and the dry ice avalanche are gorgeous to look at. And you are constantly impressed by the cast who turn in great performances in skis and clompy boots, on a stage tilted in two directions. That Longhurst’s production made it to the stage after several delays caused by Covid outbreaks is a minor miracle.

But even as you relish the showmanship, the style and the acting, a doubt lingers. What is the point of adapting and anglicising a splendid film available to millions online for a central London theatre where only 250-odd people a night can see it? I don’t know the answer, but the question will become ever more pressing in a London theatre culture increasingly dependent on borrowed stories, from Back to the Future to Frozen to After Life at the National.

Donmar Warehouse, to 5 Feb; donmarwarehouse.com

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