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 vigilantes.
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.)
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 interesting character.
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
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 lie.
interesting 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.
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
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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