The Donmar Warehouse's stage has been converted into a French ski resort for Force Majeure. There is a mountain backdrop, in the middle of which are lift doors and a 'snowy' slope that tilts downwards towards the centre of the stalls.
It's ski-able as some of the cast demonstrate, swooshing from one back corner, down the slope and through the audience. It's an impressive bit of staging, but it comes at a cost.
Adapted by Tim Price from Ruben Ostlund's film, Force Majeure follows a Swedish family on holiday. The father, Tomas (Rory Kinnear), is a workaholic, and his put-upon wife Ebba (Lynsey Marshal) is determined to keep him off his phone and focused on family time.
Meanwhile, their two children are glued to screens ignoring their parents and are indignant when they do get asked to do something. It is a familiar dynamic, but an incident on the slopes threatens family and relationship bonds.
It's an incident that forces them to face some hard and ugly truths.
I haven't seen the film, but there are shades of Scandi humour in the play. There are also laughs that come from the easily recognised behaviour - the plays keen observation is one of its strengths.
However, sometimes jokes are overused and become laboured. It occasionally slips into farce, and the humour doesn't always gel with the more serious, contemplative moments. At times the play feels at odds with itself.
And then there is the staging and the skiing. On the one hand, it is quite cool to see people skiing in a theatre and does bring the ski resort to life. But on the other, if you're sitting in the wrong seats, you will get a limited view of what is going on.
Staging suits a different space
It is a stage design that would suit a bigger, traditional theatre space. In the Donmar's bijou auditorium, the audience sit on three sides of the stage and to get the slope, the stage has to be raised high at the back. It means if you are sitting in the side stalls, you are looking onto the side of the slope or under it.
Throw some pieces of furniture onto the slope to specify particular locations, and you can't see anything happening on the other side of the stage.
A bed appears that is barely visible from where we were sitting because of the height of the slope. I imagine this restricts the view further for those sitting in the seats nearest it.
The slope also directs the performance to the centre stalls rather than playing to the full audience.
It begs the question, is the slope, given the amount it is used for skiing, worth the experience for those sitting on the sides? Could the ski resort effect have been created differently given the performance space available?
I've sat in the side stalls at the Donmar countless times and never had such a bad view of the performance. The seats were listed as 'restricted view', but given past experience and the space, I trusted that it would be odd bits that were obscured rather than feeling alienated from the whole thing.
It's a shame.
Staging aside, Force Majeure is a mixed bag of play. It did make me laugh at times, but it's uneven.
I'm giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️ and a half for the play and ⭐️⭐️ for the way it's staged. If you are booking, avoid the restricted view seats in the stalls - you'll be better off in the equivalent seats in the circle.
Force Majeure, Donmar Warehouse
Adapted by Tim Price
Directed by Michael Longhurst
Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, including an interval.
Booking until 5 February, details and tickets on the Donmar website
Covid safety measures: Vaccine/Covid status required on entry. Mask-wearing throughout with signs and a pre-performance announcement reminder. The audience was mostly compliant.