Almeida Theatre, London ****
Runs: 2hr 10 mins incl one interval
TICKETS 020 7359 4404 (24 hours)
In person: 10am-7.30pm (Mon-Sat)
Review of perf seen July 2, 2019:
Like Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour and Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, The Hunt is based around a lie, a false accusation and sex. The Hunt was first conceived by Thomas Vinterbeg and Tobias Lindholm as a screenplay and film, Jagten. Vinterbeg also wrote and directed the award-winning Festen, presented at the Almeida in 2004 in David Eldridge’s adaptation directed by Rufus Norris. Lindholm was also co-writer of the hugely successful Danish tv series, Borgen.
We are definitely in Scandi-noir territory in Rupert Goold’s characteristically muscular and British premiere production, heavily marked by the throb of masculine rituals, Adam Cork’s booming score and Es Devlin’s extraordinary revolving set of timber and Perspex.
Dark doings are enacted within this squashed domestic frame – more resembling a garden shed than a comfortable bourgeois homestead. Yet middle class is certainly the provenance although set as it is in a small Danish village, as the programme points out, Danish society is distinguished by its egalitarianism.
The feeling is hermetic from the start, male bonding the ethos. A close knit community, Michele Austin’s beaming primary school head, however, welcomes us as parents do up and down the western world, gathering to celebrate harvest festival with their little ones.
The Hunt is, as was Festen after all, a tale of domesticity turned upside down, of family, especially parental values put to the test and found wanting.
For if The Hunt has one message to impart it is the one that coincides with Philip Larkin’s `they f*ck you up, they do not mean to but they do’.
And a sweet but very private primary school teacher – male – becomes the one hunted, scourged, and ostracised by his peers and school because of one little girl’s unconscious urge for love and
All of which, couldn’t be more appropriate in a world where one might argue, from having ignored the pain and abuse suffered by so many young children at the hands of adults in recent years, the scales have now tipped too far in the opposite direction so that the merest hint of an accusation can be enough to ruin a career. And a life.
The consequences are no less appalling here. And there is no doubt Vinterberg and Lindholm are both taking aim at troubled masculinity as much as they are at the hypocrisy of those only too quick to jump to a conclusion of guilt be they parent, friend, pastor or School Board.
I wasn’t too sure, however, whether given the very real male to female abuse of recent times, this particular case on the part of a sensitive male teacher didn’t come over more as a case of `special pleading and dramatically too simplistic.’
Be that as it may, Goold’s production in David Farr’s adaptation, grips relentlessly, driven by Tobias Menzies’ quietly effective portrait of Lucas, an interior man so used to keeping his emotions under wraps that he seems pathologically incapable of defending himself to the point of allowing others to form their worst judgements of him.
It’s a fascinating, very rare portrayal of enigmatic silence but one, in keeping with The Crucible, showing the collective hysteria that can so easily take hold when morals and the idea of the innocence of children comes under threat. Vinterberg and Lindholm also add, too, a troubling modern layer of the effect on childhood innocence of access to social media and porn videos via mobile phones.
Poppy Miller and Justin Salinger as the warring parents of Clara (an amazingly glassy-eyed Abbiegail Mills, as disconcertingly unfathomable as Menzies’ teacher) turn in terrific performances of dishevelled parenting whilst the male `hunters’ form a crew that carries the unmistakeable tang of those driven by the particular Scandinavian cultural norms of hunting `the wild’ – and, if one remembers The Deer Hunter, of North America and Canada.
The cultural tropes may be different but the dangers and horrors of false accusation strike as much at the heart of British families be they Home Counties or Hartlepool. Innocence may be a myth but it’s one that still carries emotive and in some cases, terrible currency.
By Thomas Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm
Adapted by David Farr
Hilde: Michele Austin
Marcus: Stuart Campbell
Rune: Adrian Der Gregorian
Ragnar: Keith Higham
Gunner: Danny Kirrane
Lucas: Tobias Menzies
Mikala: Poppy Miller
Tomas: Itoya Osagiede
Theo: Justin Salinger
Palme: Jethro Skinner
Per/Pastor: Howard Ward
Clara: Abbiegail Mills, Taya Tower, Florence White
Peter: Harrison Houghton, George Nearn Stuart
Original Screenplay: Thomas Vinterberg, Tobias Lindholm
Adaptation: David Farr
Direction: Rupert Goold
Design: Es Devlin
Costume: Evie Gurney
Light: Neil Austin
Sound and Composition: Adam Cork
Movement: Botis Seva
Casting: Amy Ball CDG
Children’s Casting: Verity Naughton
Costume Supervision: Peter Todd
Props Supervision: Lizzie Frankl
Resident Director: Jamie Armitage
Lead Associate Designer: Machiko Weston
Associate Lighting Designer: Jamie Platt
Fight Director: Bret Yount
Movement Assistant: Ezra Owen
First perf of this British premiere production of The Hunt at Almeida Theatre, June 17, 2019; runs to Aug 3, 2019
Review published on this site, July 3, 2019