MIDDLECLASS MOUNTAIN MISERIES
Inspired programming here. You’d find a decent overlap in any January Venn diagram of regular Donmar audiences and people who wish they were ski-ing; and on the very day M.Macron let Brits back into France, I was admiring the little theatre’s Alpine backdrop and a white sloping stage occasionally traversed by elegant skiers in competitive-cool outfits. Better still, Tim Price’s adaptation of Ruben Ostlund’s film features every recognizable family ski-trip trope: knows-best Dad not yet separable from his work-phone, dragging them all on the slopes before getting some food in them, stressed Mum, teenage girl who would rather have gone to St Tropez, and a tantrum-prone kid brother whining about lost goggles and wanting to FaceTime the family dog. Meanwhile friends, a childfree and only semi-committed couple, are ready to be drawn into emotional eddies of family life they do not yet understand. Perfect: one’s hopes rise for a middle-class meltdown in the style of Yasmina Reza or vintage Ayckbourn.
It doesn’t quite happen, the script workable but not special: yet in Michael Longhurst’s elegant production, led by Rory Kinnear, offers a lot to enjoy along the way. The inciting incident is darkly clever, and presaged by the eerie boom of avalanche-gun explosions. As the family finally settle in a mountaintop restaurant for lunch, one of these is followed by a wonderful deafening roar and snow-mist half obscuring the stage, as it is clear the avalanche is heading disastrously towards them.
It misses, but after the chaos it becomes clear that Daddy Tomas didn’t – gulp! – reach for his wife and children, but took his phone, and ran screaming. Silence on the subject at first (wives know how to wait their time, calm the kids). But in conversation with the friends that evening she relates it, and he does the full Boris-cum-Andrew angry male denial: didn’t happen, can’t run in ski-boots anyway, she must be remembering wrong…
Consternation grips the friends, unable to deal with it if it happened and still less able to deal with the accusation if it didn’t. A neurotic night follows for all. Such trips are never quite smooth anyway (“It’s a family holiday, I’m not SUPPOSED to enjoy it” barks Kinnear). Wife wants to go straight home and “talk about all this there”, having lost faith in life, and especially in him. Tomas responds with more defiance, followed by a full admission and a crazed collapse into sobbing , wailing neurotic self-loathing “I hate what i have become!”.
Which, naturally, causes his the rest of the family to embrace and care for him, so he wins anyway. Kinnear is quite wonderful, both in his confidence and his collapse, deftly combining comic absurdity and precarious maleness. Lyndsey Marshal is good as the wife, though even in this small theatre sometimes barely audible (TV-mumble acting creeping in), and when the emotion rises is properly impressive, a barely-restrained female frustratee we all recognize . The other couple, Siena Kelly and Sule Rimi (a natural comic) have a glorious nocturnal sequence as he starts to panic about his own male trustworthiness. The children are horribly credible, and Raffello Degruttola deserves a mention as one of his almost wordless parts is Man With Vacuum Cleaner. It gets a good laugh every time.
I daresay some may have left the theatre musing seriously on the toxic potential of masculine identity, but most of us, I suspect, were just laughing and wondering if or when we shall get to see real ski-slopes again. As I say, genius programming for winter 2022.
box office donmarwarehouse.com to 5 feb