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 The Theatreguide.London Review

In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others by streaming new shows. Until things return to normal we review the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.

Death Of A Hunter
Finborough Theatre   Autumn 2020

Rolf Hochhuth's dramatic imagining of the last hour in the life of American writer Earnest Hemingway played one weekend at the Finborough Theatre in April 2018. It is thin and not particularly insightful or imaginative, and hard-working actor Edmund Dehn and director Anthony Shrubsall are unable to do very much with the little they are given.

The author of A Farewell To Arms and For Whom The Bell Tolls killed himself in 1961, and Hochhuth's unoriginal theory is that the hard-living man's-man novelist had written himself out and saw no reason to live if he couldn't write. He has his Hemingway say as much in one of the few resonant moments in the monologue Hemingway says a writer who can't write feels Death at his elbow the same way a terminally ill man does.

But that is just about the limit of Hochhuth's insights. He doesn't give us any real sense of what it feels like to lose the thing that defined you, or even convince us that the man before us actually was a writer. A passing reference to Hemingway's book The Old Man And The Sea goes by too quickly for us to register that it was about a man achieving his life's ambition only to sit helplessly and see it lost.

Hochhuth is a little more successful in suggesting a man's man beginning to realise that his romanticising of war and big game hunting was as much a matter of trying to convince himself as his readers.

But even that is more generic than individualised and, despite sprinkling the text with occasional details the names of Hemingway's wives, his love of Cuba the man never comes alive as Earnest Hemingway.

With such thin material to work with, it may be an accomplishment for director Shrubsall and actor Dehn to achieve what they do, even if that is no more than generic Bitter Old Guy.

There are some missed opportunities along the way. Hochhuth attempts, a bit clumsily, to demonstrate Hemingway's writer's block by having him unable to write a cheque for the cleaning lady or type a letter to his sons.

But at those moments, with pen in hand or fingers poised over the keyboard, Edmund Dehn shows no physical or nervous strain. We don't see paralysis, but what could be nothing more than a whimsical decision to put it off for later.

The actor's movements around the stage, occasionally sitting at his desk or perching on a bar stool, seem arbitrary and unmotivated, as does his occasional listening, like Beckett's Krapp, to old audio tapes.

(Those tapes pose another problem the director doesn't solve. The character also occasionally hears the voice of his own thoughts and also the imagined voice of his father, and the production does not distinguish clearly among them.)

This recording was made in an empty Finborough, and one senses the actor missing the support and feedback an audience could have given him. The multi-camera multi-microphone video is marred only by frequent shifts in light and sound levels.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  Death Of A Hunter  2020