Stuck on the slopes: Force Majeure at Donmar Warehouse
Circle standing, £10
8 January 2022
I can see why Tim Price would think Force Majeure would work as a play. Despite being set in the Alps, and at least in part being very much about the experience of being in a ski resort, Ruben Östland’s masterful film is also, as the copy has it, an ‘intense psychodrama’, a short-hander on the claustrophobia of family. You could argue further that the film’s uncanny sound world, veering between the extremes of the snow’s ultra silence and the manufactured noises of humans’ efforts to pretend that this is a normal place for them to be, is particularly well suited to the enclosed environment of a small theatre such as Donmar. And you could even try to convince yourself that the film’s counterpoint obsession with controlled environment means it was meant to be a play all along.
You could do all these things, and the Platonic ideal of a play of Force Majeure remains in the mind. This is not that, however, and by any reckoning Price’s adaptation is far inferior to the film. It’s reasonably entertaining, and is a vehicle for some fun ski-based stage designs – a flow of white carpet allows ski slopes and plush hotel to co-exist simultaneously – and Rory Kinnear’s tortured masculinity, watchable if now verging on schtick. But the film provides far more fodder for the mind.
Part of the value-leak is down to excessive fidelity to the film’s screenplay, with a particular impact on pace. Despite the opportunities offered by Jon Bausor’s imaginative designs, the play has a play-like desire for longer scenes, and so where the film implies, the play states. The impact of this might not have been terrible if more had been cut, but little is. Thus what is incisive, witty, surprising in the film becomes baggy, slow, obvious.
Furthermore Price and his collaborators do themselves and us a disservice by insistently retaining the film’s Swedish nationality. Why bother? The only thing gained is a similarity to the film, and lost is a mine of Brits-abroad humour (though this is incongruously shoe-horned in nonetheless), and an immediacy that the pairing of Kinnear and Lyndsey Marshal should bring.
My principle complaint, however, is that Price and I are evidently at odds in our interpretation of the film. The film is so rich because it laughs at humanity, not just at masculinity. Price’s, dare I say, male-centric vision is a more conventionally self-flagellating satire on maleness. The main impact of this is in the ending. The film finishes with an inspired punch that is extravagantly, euphorically acerbic and which lingers long in the mind. The play, on the other hand, concludes with trite aphorisms on the importance of apologising and trying hard to do better. All well and good, but not very interesting, and not truthful.
Put these fundamental flaws aside and one has to credit the effort given. Special mention goes to Florence Hunt and Henry Hunt as the children, superbly naturalistic and confident presences. Everyone in the cast is strong, and I can only admire their stoicism in what must be a thankless piece of work, what with its skiing, ankle-buckling rake and sweltering costume designs. Would that their efforts were towards something more worthwhile.
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