LONDON — The show goes on, or these days maybe not. Live performances have been disrupted as much here as on Broadway by the recent rise in coronavirus infection. Productions fell apart one after the other during the holiday season due to outbreaks in their crews or casts. Barely had Rebecca Frecknall’s revelatory revival of “Cabaret,” starring Eddie Redmayne, opened to rave reviews before it lost a spate of performances, a scenario repeated on and off the West End.
Shutdowns affected big productions like “Moulin Rouge!,” the epic Tony-winning musical whose much-delayed London opening is now scheduled for Jan. 20. But they also occurred at fringe theaters like the Bush, where a two-hander called “Fair Play” closed within days of its premiere. (The run has since been resumed. Elsewhere, the organizers of the VAULT festival decided “with broken hearts,” they said in a statement, to cancel what would have been the 10th anniversary edition of that important showcase for new work.
The Royal Court and the National Theater, two prominent state-funded playhouses, shut their doors altogether during the lucrative holiday period, and, over in the commercial sphere, Andrew Lloyd Webber closed his new musical, “Cinderella,” until February. “I am absolutely devastated,” the composer wrote on TwitterDec. 21
So you can imagine my delight this week to find the Donmar Warehouse back in business after being caught up in the closures, presenting the stage premiere of “Force Majeure,” adapted from the 2014 movie. (The play will run through February. 5.) The audience at the 251-seat theater had to show proof of vaccination or a negative antigen test before entry, and we remained masked throughout — something that, until recently, has been an all too rare sight here. (At “Cinderella” back in August, I clocked scarcely a single mask.)
I’m not sure that the playwright Tim Price’s adaptation, alas, is worth all the protocol. Those who know the Swedish director Ruben Ostlund’s Cannes Grand Jury prize-winner will recall its portrait of a marriage in free fall, which is sometimes bitterly funny but, more often than not, disturbing and even eerie. Set during five days in the French Alps, “Force Majeure” tells of a husband and wife and their two young children whose ski holiday doesn’t quite go as planned.
Caught up in a controlled avalanche that appears to be out of control, Tomas abandons his family in the moment of crisis — or so claims his wife, Ebba, who is shaken by his behavior. Before long, Tomas’s ready smile turns to howls of grief and an awareness that their relationship has been altered for keeps.
The theatrical version’s director, Michael Longhurst, has turned the Donmar stage into a miniature ski slope, and the backdrop of Jon Bausor’s clever design shows off the snow-capped mountains essential to the action. What transfers less well is the darkening, ambiguous tone of a film that, in Price’s stage iteration, seems both more literal and more vulgar: Much is made of one character’s priapic tendencies. The couple’s stage children are sullen brats who would have been better off left at home, and the film’s extraordinary ending aboard a wayward bus has been discarded in favor of silly shenanigans in an overcrowded elevator.
Rory Kinnear, Lyndsey Marshallal, both fine actors, alternate between recrimination and affection in this routine domestic comedy. Tomas’s breakdown — harrowing to watch onscreen — elicited laughs from some spectators the other night.
The stagecraft is more of an occasion at another play whose performances were interrupted late last year: “Life of Pi,” at Wyndham’s Theater, improbably brings to theatrical life the 2001 novel by Yann Martel that inspired the acclaimed 2012 film for which the director Ang Lee won an Oscar.
In that version, 3-D plunges the moviegoer directly into the turbulent waters of a tale told largely at sea, as the teenage Pi, a zookeeper’s son, finds himself cast adrift on a lifeboat with only animals for company — chief among them a Bengal tiger known as Richard Parker. The play features veterans from the worlds of video and puppetry that work together with Max Webster and Tim Hatley to conjure a multitude of beasts in front of a rapt crowd. Finn Caldwell, the puppetry and movement director, oversees the cast, which also includes six puppeteers to play the tiger. Nick Barnes also designed the puppets.
The result sometimes overpowers Lolita Chakrabarti’s script, which chronicles the story in flashback once Pi has made it to shore in Mexico, miraculously intact. We long for more of this sound-and-light extravaganza, which includes giraffes, goats and a talking cat. (The more squeamish may recoil from the scene in which he eats “reprocessed food,” as he calls it, to stay alive.)
The play addresses issues of faith — Pi’s story, we’re told, “will make you believe in God” — and of humankind as “the most dangerous animal in the zoo.” But the appeal of “Life of Pi” lies not so much in blunt pronouncements as in the visual wonder of a bare stage yielding to richly imagined life. That’s one reason we go to the theater, and why it’s nice to have theaters to go to again.
Force Majeure. Michael Longhurst directed the film. Donmar Warehouse, Feb.
Pi. Max Webster directed.. Wyndham’s Theater, for an open-end run.
Source: NY Times