The Theatreguide.London Review
Almeida Theatre Summer 2019
This stage adaptation by
David Farr of a 2012 Danish film tells a story that is disturbing and
thought-provoking. But it is too cool and distanced from its subject and
characters to be fully successful as drama.
In a small Danish town a
schoolteacher is falsely accused of exposing himself to a small child.
Although completely innocent, he gets caught up in a reaction that
involves losing his job, being arrested, and becoming the target of local
As an object lesson in how
lies like this can escalate and ruin lives, The Hunt is both convincing
and chilling. But as one man's story it gives us too little reason to
(I hasten to say that this
might be deliberate, the film-makers and adapter choosing and almost
Brechtian distance. I can only report that, as with some of Brecht, the
effect is counterproductive.)
I don't need a spoiler alert
to say that we know from the start that the man is totally and
unequivocally innocent, because we see the scene that is later lied about.
But in a curious way that knowledge of his innocence makes him a less
To cite three generically
similar plays, in Arthur Miller's The Crucible the man is innocent but
facing the false charges leads him to recognise other culpable flaws in
himself, in Patrick Shanley's Doubt we see that the man is being
railroaded but there remains the tantalising possibility that he might be
guilty, and in David Mamet's Oleanna the teacher is shown to be innocent
of the specific charge but capable of other comparable sins.
In each case it is the 'but'
that is the core of the play, and a character who is uncomplicatedly
innocent simply offers less of a play for us to be involved with.
We watch the teacher in The
Hunt go through pain, confusion, anger and other emotions. But despite a
fine performance by Tobias Menzies, we never get past his surface or find
anything below it to invite us to care.
That same distancing effect
runs through the play (I repeat my acknowledgement that it may be
deliberate, but also my judgement that it's a mistake).
The little girl's parents
clearly have a drama of their own, but the play doesn't want to be
distracted by it, and it is not until very late in the play that we are
offered some glimpse of the psychology and emotions that led to the girl's
characters, like the head teacher out of her depth but trying to play by
the book (Michele Austin) or the central character's supportive teenage
son (Stuart Campbell) are just shunted on and off stage as wanted or not,
leaving their stories incomplete. And the village men's hunting (i.e.,
drinking) lodge that is going to turn into the vigilantes is too easy and
sketched-in a cliche.
Would-be symbolic elements
that might have worked in the film, like the silent appearances of a giant
deer or sequences of actors running round and round the stage, are never
integrated into the reality of the play in a way that resonates.
Es Devlin's stage design is
built around a large gauze cube that can be opaque or transparent
depending on the lighting. When used as an 'indoor' space, like a
classroom or cabin, it can suggest a claustrophobic trapped feeling. But
it is equally used as 'outdoors' when the rest of the stage is understood
to be an interior and people come in through it, so its symbolic power is
negated as often as it is asserted.
Taken as a semi-documentary, The Hunt is informative and conversation-stimulating. Taken as drama, it offers too little to engage our emotions as well as our minds.
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