Review: Force Majeure, Donmar Warehouse ★★★★☆

Tomas (Rory Kinnear) and his wife Ebba (Lyndsey Marshal) are on holiday in the Alps with their children (played tonight by Florence Hunt and Henry Hunt). They are determined to have quality family time with their children on the ski trip but the family unit is tested when disaster strikes – they are caught in what they believe to be an avalanche, with Tomas fleeing to save his own skin.

It may have seemed like an impossible task, taking Ruben Östlund’s 2014 film Force Majeure and adapting it for the stage. Tim Price’s text sticks mostly to the ground of the film, which means there are a number of immediate challenges; firstly, how do you recreate the Alps in the intimate space the Donmar offers, and, secondly, how do you recreate an avalanche?

Oliver Savell (Harry), Lyndsey Marshal (Ebba), Rory Kinnear (Tomas), Bo Bragason (Vera). Photo: Marc Brenner

Jon Bausor’s design answers the first challenge with a highly raked stage, sloping downwards from stage right, with a sheet of white snow that dazzles under Lucy Carter’s glaring white lighting recalling potential snow blindness. The ensemble zoom onto and off the stage in skis, passing the audience by inches. It is a truly unique staging that captures the feel of the Alps.

However, the high rake does push the action to the front of stage where the rake is less severe, making the Donmar’s space even tighter and causing a few issues for Michael Longhurst’s direction. With the Donmar’s three-sided layout, audience members to the wings may find their views more restricted than usual.

The second challenge is answered with aplomb through a combination of Carter’s lighting design, Donato Wharton’s sound design and a significant amount of dry ice, to stunning effect. A storm at a pivotal moment later in the play is even more dramatic – feeling all the more real as Tomas disappears into the fog.

Lyndsey Marshal (Ebba), Oliver Savell (Harry), Rory Kinnear (Tomas), Bo Bragason (Vera) and Kwami Odoom (Brady, Male Skier). Photo: Marc Brenner

But despite the dramatic staging, the real strength here is the cast. Kinnear’s performance elevates the production to a higher plane; he is perfect as the father who is struggling to keep up his alpha-male facade. His uncomfortable squirming under Ebba’s drunken examination of his act is both skin crawling awkward and laugh-out-loud funny. The scene, played with excellent support by Sule Rimi as Mats and Siena Kelly as Jenny, is a masterclass in cringe comedy.

Marshal is fantastic as the wife who has had enough of him, although she is slightly restricted by the ‘wife’ stereotype. Florence Hunt and Henry Hunt’s performances as the couple’s bickering children are so authentic that some parents in the audience may feel that they are watching a documentary.

By the end, the family dynamic has come practically full circle when a final twist reveals that things are never always as they seem, while the set reveals there is more to it than meets the eye too. Overall, the interrogation of the family relationship under pressure makes for a close to the bone, laugh-out-loud evening of theatre.

Don’t miss our interview with cast member Arthur Wilson – “It’s quite a big feat to create this story for the stage”

Force Majeure is at the Donmar Warehouse until 5 February.