If the law defined a ‘force majeure’ event as an unforeseeable circumstance that prevents someone from fulfilling a contract you might be intrigued if I were to then tell you this play uses this concept, but in the context of a family holiday. Think back to those trivial but secretly compelling questions that once upon a time you asked your sibling, such as if they would save you in a disaster? You always give the heroic answer but deep down you ponder if, in fact, panic mode might cause you to put on your own face mask before considering saving anyone else…This play is that unwanted thought.
Originally a film by Ruber Östlunds, Tim Price has succesfully managed to adapt this story to stage, with Jon Bauser’s set impressively transforming the famously intimate Donmar stage into a ski slope. Here we are thrown into a full blown family holiday, where Tomas and Ebba – determined to have quality time with their children – head to the Alps on a skiing trip. When disaster strikes, their family unit is tested to breaking point, with both hilarious and tragic consequences.
Director Michael Longhurst gloriously emphasises comic realism, making the performances in this show a treat to watch. Tomas, played by Rory Kinnear, is a perfect example of self-obsessed masculinity. Kinnear has a strong stage presence and gives a convincingly naturalistic performance, with consistently perfect comedic timing throughout. Lyndsey Marshal as Ebba grabs the less appealing role of a stereotyped housewife with great intention and makes us wince with pity and exhaustion for her. Florence Hunt and Henry Hunt as the two children perfectly capture petty familial rivalry. The combination of bouts of screaming and bickering with the intimacy of the theatre makes you feel like you are one of them. There is a particularly hilarious scene in the sub plot featuring Tomas’ friend Mats, played comically by Sule Rimi, and his sarcastic, buoyant girlfriend Jenny (Siena Kelly). They have an absurd fight that lasts all night, wherein Mats embraces his ‘inner child’ and reveals his ongoing masculine belief that vulnerability could tarnish his perfectly alpha-male ego.
The scenes are separated by bright lights, music and trendy neon skiers doing movement sequences that really make you want to sit in the back of an après ski bar listening to Eurovision pop.
Seeming superficial at first, it quickly became apparent this is not just a mindless comedy. There are poignant and thought-provoking themes running throughout, with a harmonious dance forming between frivolity and intense discussion about polygamy, survival mode, heroism and masculinity.
Underneath the howls of laughter ongoing in this piece, I thought about the differences between generational and gendered approaches to mental health; I contemplated our survival instincts and how people react and respond to trauma; I considered our climate and how we suppress nature beneath our desires. Can we eventually recognise our flaws? If we do, do we have potential for change?
The language in the script seems directed at a younger audience, or aims for a less meaty but straightforward dialogue. It is witty and has an edge of darkness to it that would appeal to a light-hearted audience. There’s occasional foolishness, which I imagine not everyone would take to and might potentially find frustrating. In short, it feels like a Marmite situation – you either love it or hate it.
I rarely see a play twice but this one I definitely would. It made me ache with laughing: it was honest, unpretentious and enjoyable – a brilliant show to kickstart 2022. Highly recommended.
Director: Michael Longhurst
Writer: Tim Price
Designer: John Bausor
Lighting: Lucy Carter
Sound: Donato Wharton
Force Majeure plays at Donmar Warehouse until 5 February. Further information and bookings via the below link.