AAnyone who watched Ruben Östlund’s magnificent Alpine mishap in 2014 can see how tricky it can be to transpose from screen to stage, especially a scene of modest size. After all, his MacGuffin is a thunderous avalanche across the French Alps that arouses marital mistrust and fusion on a family ski trip.
Michael Longhurst took on the rushed challenge, but for all the comedic additions in the Tim Price adaptation, the eccentric reduction of Jon Bausor’s set design, and the heroic performances all around, it feels like fulfilling an impossible challenge.
The set is crisp white and tilted to resemble a slope; wisely, he doesn’t seek to emulate the visual immensity of Östlund’s film but still feels a bit too confined. The production amplifies the wacky, comedic inflections the film so masterfully combined with the family tensions, trauma, and accusations of selfishness and betrayal that the avalanche unleashes.
Harassed mom Ebba (Lyndsey Marshal) rushes to protect her children (Florence Hunt and Henry Hunt that night, both very relaxed) while dad Tomas (Rory Kinnear) rushes to save himself – it’s dubious less what we say. But the overall result is a less ambiguous dramatic comedy than a silly sitcom. The biggest questions around human survival and the possibility that men and women might behave in different and Darwinian ways seem largely lost.
Perhaps this is because these questions and their emotional ripples hang over the effects triggered by the avalanche which in this production just isn’t terrifying enough, although there is a brave attempt with explosions. of dry ice and a vibrant sonorous crescendo. Where Touching the Void, another mountain-related adaptation, has managed to conjure up big stakes on stage, this drama never emanates enough physical danger.
The wacky humor also seems overdone: Skiers who look like they’ve walked around in a Pepsi Max commercial walk past this oddly British-looking family (though they stick with the original version and say that they come from Sweden). A man with a vacuum cleaner who appears at the wrong time sounds like an overrated joke. Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is used as an arch accompaniment, like in the movie, but there’s also some high-energy club music that evokes a certain Eurobeat vibe but feels slightly thrown in for good measure.
There is a nifty ski slope across the stage, and minor characters sweep across it. But the central family makes comical ski gestures, while remaining static, and muffled music makes them feel like they are performing movements on a dry ski center simulator.
The script is weakest when it deviates from the original script. An added scene features an argument between Tomas and the hotel manager over a lost door key stamp that lacks humor. Kinnear is quite watchable, as he always is, but his characters and Marshal’s seem flattened and we wonder if the look definitely lost is that of Tomas or Kinnear for having so little leeway in the role. He is also, perhaps, a little too unhappy to pass himself off as a dominant male who won’t recognize his fear, cowardice or selfishness.
The penultimate scene in the story, in which he rescues Ebba on the runways – so ambiguous in the film it feels almost surreal – here expresses its meaning and feels incredibly awkward for it. The finale revolves around a stuck elevator rather than the film’s abortive coach trip and that just doesn’t feel satisfying enough, making the production feel limp until the end.