• 'The Hunt'

    A small country town with long-established traditions and customs; a close-knit community where everyone knows everyone else; families whose children are loved by others as though they were their own… In such a place rumour, suggestion and misunderstanding have particular power. David Farr‘s stage adaptation of the 2012 Danish film The Hunt, which was directed by Thomas Vinterberg and written by him and Tobias Lindholm, explores these points at the Almeida Theatre under the direction of Rupert Goold.

    Teacher Lucas (Tobias Menzies) busies himself at the primary school whilst fighting with his ex-wife over access to their teenage son. The parents of two small children, Peter and Clara, have again failed to pick them up and the kind and patient Lucas keeps them amused. As Lucas also busies himself tidying up, Peter shows Clara adult footage that lies almost-hidden on his father’s old mobile; shortly after, Clara gives Lucas a present, accompanied by some unsettlingly intimate gestures. Deftly, he deflects her attention with a respectful explanation and thinks nothing of it. He knows both families very well – indeed, there is a hint of a relationship as Karla’s outgoing mother finally arrives, whilst Peter’s father is Lucas’s hunting buddy and fellow lodge member. The moment passes.

    Except that it doesn’t. Clara, upset at the rejection and confused and conflicted about love, tells her headteacher a version of what happened, every element of which is the truth but which, as a whole, is not. The remainder of the play dramatizes the impact on Lucas, his family and his friends. As such the snowballing of Clara’s mistruth is well illustrated, with flakes added by others not helping, and the responses of the adults around the pair ring true.

    Menzies is superb, his usual underplaying and utterly believable performance style fitting the scenario perfectly. As Clara in the production I saw (the role is rotated between three young actresses), a quiet, serious Abbiegail Mills was astonishingly good, and the two make a good pair. Michele Austin convincingly conveys the bright enthusiasm of a dedicated headteacher, especially in her clever addresses to the audience at the start of each act, and Howard Ward is convincing as the school board member “with responsibility for this area”. Unfortunately, most of the rest of the cast play their scenes rather too broadly to fit in with these precedents, from Poppy Miller as Clara’s mother to Danny Kirrane as Peter’s father. Taken together and extended over the two acts, this mismatch begins to grate.

    The staging revolves – pun intended – around another of Es Devlin’s sets placed within the Almeida’s customarily bare auditorium and its turntable. Scenes take place in and around an enclosure shaped like a child’s idea of a house with walls of glass. The metaphor is obvious even without the switchable technology (or perhaps good old-fashioned lighting) that makes those walls instantly opaque, often accompanied by thunderous crashes on the soundtrack and flashes of the neon lighting that outlines its form. But there is a problem.

    Unlike Devlin’s exceptional work for Chimerica, The Nether and The Lehman Trilogy, the approach here, along with Goold’s uncertain sense of direction, doesn’t really work. Though permitting clever scene changes to occur, it is often unclear where scenes are supposed to be set or whether characters are leaving the place it represents or entering it. When the players crowd in to it en masse for the climax, set in the town church, it is hard to suspend disbelief. There is much running, on and off stage, around it, even – remarkably – inside the house, in a kind of slow-motion, but much of this starts to seem comedic rather than dramatic. An additional thematic thread, of the mystical aspects of the woodland, overburdens events unnecessarily.

    After two hours I was struggling to focus, and to draw clarity and meaning from the ending. Paring things down and focusing on emotions rather than actions would have assisted, along with – on this occasion – a calmer set design.

    Ultimately I found this a disappointment, even a frustration, an admittedly rare thing at the theatre that brought us Kings Charles III, Mary Stuart and more. If this was a hunt, I felt like its prey.

    The Hunt continues at the Almeida Theatre, London N1 until 3 August

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Chris Rogers writer on architecture and visual culture

Click blog images to expand; pre-Sept 2011 posts here

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Chris is one of more than a dozen specialists whose essays fill this fresh examination of the charms of Paris, which is edited by John Flower. Looking at the French capital's history, culture and districts, each item can be read in just half a minute and is beautifully illustrated with its own collage-style spread.

The Ivy Press, 2018

Hardback, 160 pages | ISBN 9781782405443

£14.99

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