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FORCE MAJEURE at the Donmar is adapted by Tim Price from Ruben Ostlund’s original screenplay for the film of the same name, the film won the Palme d’Or and was Oscar nominated.
The play — despite its grand title, breath-taking setting and fascinating theme — is a muddle and can’t decide if it’s a comedy or a magnificent moral tale. In the event, it falls short of both.
Not that there isn’t much to like. Jon Bausor’s glittering ski slope under brooding Alpine peaks, for one, provokes a rush of excitement as you enter the theatre and is a reminder throughout of the glorious power of nature and its humbling effect on the human mind.
Rory Kinnear, exhibiting his easy, unclouded rapport with any audience, effortlessly commands our attention as main man, Tomas, while Sule Rimi and Siena Kelly light up the stage as comedy supporting duo.
The drama, itself, raises profound questions about how well we know ourselves and what insecurities and unacknowledged weaknesses shape our behaviour.
When an avalanche — frighteningly created on stage through sound and profuse dry ice — seems to engulf Tomas and his family as they bicker on the piste, we are invited to consider how little any of us know about how we will respond in moments of danger.
How Tomas responds becomes the driver of the play and it is very much the male rather than female sex that is the subject of scrutiny.
But the script is uneven and the characters unrealised. The comedy reduces to silliness at times what should be an immersive experience; and the action is so fragmented, and the family unit so conceptual rather than real, that emotional engagement with Tomas’s plight is nigh on impossible, even in the hands of so consummate an actor. And when the play ends, it’s with a whimper.
There are some fine comic lines and the thoughts generated by the theme will almost certainly attract good audiences.
But there is more at stake here, which better developed characters would show.
For instance, through no fault of her own, Lyndsey Marshal’s portrayal of Tomas’s glaringly charmless wife, Ebba, comes across as hard-nosed and uncaring.
Love between husbands and wives and parents and children is spectacularly absent, and the way the women talk disparagingly of their men makes you wonder why the men have anything to do with them at all.
Tomas, we learn, contorts his real self unceasingly in order to bring in the money, support the family and be a reasonable dad.
And when the pressure gets to him, you feel he deserves more kindness and less of the carelessly triumphant ridicule his wife heaps upon him.
Michael Longhurst’s production can easily amuse an audience. But it dodges the heart and betrays the characters. It’s a shame because the central theme could be so powerful.
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