mon 24/01/2022

Force Majeure, Donmar Warehouse review - fissures in a marriage | reviews, news & interviews

Force Majeure, Donmar Warehouse review - fissures in a marriage

Force Majeure, Donmar Warehouse review - fissures in a marriage

Ski-resort trauma is played too much for easy laughs

Tomas (Rory Kinnear) and Ebba (Lyndsey Marshall) find a crisis has a fallout on their familyBoth images by Marc Brenner

It sounds like the title of a play by Rattigan. No such luck: “Force Majeure” – a legal term with which all too few will be familiar, in which circumstances beyond anyone’s control cancel a contract – is how Ruben Östlund’s 2014 film Turist is known beyond Sweden (an American remake with Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, not good by all accounts, has much the best title, Downhill).

This tragicomedy about the consequences of a husband and father running away from his family when an avalanche seems about to overwhelm a ski-resort restaurant has been adapted for the stage by Tim Price and staged, with plenty of on- and off-piste panache, by the Donmar’s artistic director Michael Longhurst. It’s done well, on its own terms, but the real question is, should it have been done at all?

Ultimately, I think not. The moral fallout of denial and evasion of the truth have possibilities of a psychological drama way beyond the slightly gimmicky ski-slope rake of Jon Bausor’s set and the not quite brilliant enough dance interludes gamely exercised by the ensemble (way too many of them early on). Given that the fidgety number of short scenes – fine in film, less so in the theatre – slows down for a more sustained concentration on the truth at the end of the first half, you go out in the interval hoping that the play will take you beyond the expected.

That doesn’t really happen. The way the tensions between the central married couple affect their children (Florence Hunt and Henry Hunt on the night I went, very good) is plausible and sustained. But wife and mum of two Ebba, the excellent Lyndsey Marshall, has a scene with a woman who faces her with the alternative of a guilt-free open marriage (Nathalie Armin) in which the issues vanish once raised. The main tension is in Ebba’s attempts to squeeze the truth from husband Tomas (Rory Kinnear). In this and much else she’s less than sympathetic – and that may well have been Östlund’s point, that too much is expected of the male in a conventional family role. Siena Kelly and Sule Rimi in 'Force Majeure'When Tomas does crack, though, it seems to be done for laughs, and hardly uneasy ones. Not Kinnear’s finest moment, though he’s been convincingly tight-lipped in desperate denial up to that point. An attempt engineered by the wife to make the husband look good in front of the children could be played for pathos and discomfort; that too is thrown away. The final honesty comes too late.

It’s promising when, towards the end of Act One, another couple, Tomas’s friend Mats (Sule Rimi) and his younger girlfriend Jenny (Siena Kelly, both pictured above) find themselves sucked into the marital nightmare. But then Mats’s self-questioning dark night of the soul, also played just as comedy, rings hollow, and later you ask why a man who went through two years of therapy but found primal screaming solved all problems has to subject us, and the compellingly bemused Jenny, to all this. Jenny’s intentions to liven up a dull place with nothing for young people to do at night have already been belied by the would-be cool ski-dances to disco music and pumped-up Vivaldi. All that might be good in a musical, but overwhelms the very reasons for adapting the film: “It’s not really about skiing,” a friend said who’d seen it before I went – but for me, it’s too much so, and I left without much real food for thought.

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