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Review: Force Majeure (Donmar Warehouse)

The Alps comes to central London as Donmar Warehouse hosts Force Majeure - a tale about a family's supposedly uneventful skiing trip. Obviously this is theatre so everything doesn't go as planned and when disaster strikes, it all snowballs from there.

Based on the film by Ruben Östlund, it has been adapted for the stage buy Tim Price - and what an adaptation it is. If you've been to the Donmar before, you already know they don't do things by halves and this is no exception. A relatively small space is transformed to a level so impactful it makes your jaw drop. Designed by Jon Bausor, several rows of seating surrounds a snowy slope, with cast members descending from the top and effortlessly skiing down past the audience and out through the door. Anyone looking for an escape from the cold London weather at the moment, this might not be the show for you.

The staging is undoubtedly one of the greatest elements of the show, with an "avalance" brilliantly recreated through sound, light and a smoke machine. Even a fan whirring creating a frosty air gives you the idea you are in the Alps with the characters, making this feel more immersive than it might have otherwise. The stage cleverly transforms throughout the play, instantly changing scenes from a hotel bedroom to a restaurant to the slope itself, all on a bed of snow of course.

Olivier award winner Rory Kinnear stars as Tomas - the father of the family of four. Together with his wife Ebba, played by Lyndsey Marshal, they form the core of the cast of 11 with their children Harry and Vera (played at this performance by Henry Hunt and Florence Hunt). All four display brilliant chemistry with all of the complicated dynamics you would expect on a dysfunctional family holiday. Rory and Lyndsey are mesmerising as the warring husband and wife, at a crucial point in their relationship.

The supporting cast are equally fantastic with Sule Rimi and Siena Kelly providing a standout pairing as couple Mats and Jenny. Changing the tone of the show, the rapid paced scene they open the second act with is potentially the funniest moment of the shiow and left me longing to see what they did next. Special mention to Raffaello Degruttola who has a small but memorable role as "Cleaner" with a hilarious recurring joke involving a certain prop.

Force Majeure is filled with a flurry of wickedly funny one-liners. A predominantly sunny tone masks a darker undertone as more serious matters come to light. A split second decision in a moment or panic escalates and creates discussion among the performers, and no doubt the audience as well, as they discuss the merits between fight or flight reactions in the moment of a traumatic experience. The play poses some interesting and opposing theories of what you would do in that situation as well as asking questions of whether we can recognise our flaws and change.

I went into this play fairly blind, having not seen the movie. Reading the synopsis I expected a disaster story about a family trapped in an avalanche (hopefully without cannabilism). I couldn't have anticipated that I would see instead is a nuanced tale about the intricacies of family life drilling down to the very depth of what makes us tick as humans. A compelling characterisation into humanity as a whole, Force Majeure was full of surprises.

With a fantastic cast acting their thermal socks off coupled with some truly clever staging, Force Majeure really is a tour de force. Theatre at its finest - if you've ever wanted to experience being smack bang in the middle of an avalanche, this is the show for you. Wrap up warm and get yourself a ticket.


Force Majeure plays at the Donmar Warehouse until February 5th.



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