A journey into the darkest recesses of the human soul is provided by Rupert Goold in his chilling production of The Hunt (Almeida TheatreN1), adapted by David Farr from Thomas Vinterberg's 2012 film.
Set in rural Denmark, it focuses on teacher Lucas, the recently divorced father of a teenage son. He is a popular figure, admired for his careful handling of sensitive youngsters. Yet when his six-year-old pupil and best friend's daughter Clara misinterprets his refusal of a gift, everything changes as his whole world collapses around him. Falsely accused of paedophilia, Lucas ceases to be a person and instead becomes an object–first of suspicion, then of loathing. Though Clara soon seems to forget about her accusation, copy-cat allegations multiply.
This is a tightly-wrought, intense and terrifying study of how a civilised community that prides itself on being tolerant and welcoming can become a violent excluding place, how friendships can be torn apart and lives destroyed by a moment in which everyone tries to do the right thing. It asks troubling questions such as: how can a single lie turn a group of seemingly decent people into irrational fanatics? and how does it feel to be the victim of mass hysteria? It is also about hypocrisy and masculinity and the rituals that bind groups of people together and rend them apart.
Es Devlin encapsulates the drama in her Scandi-bleak set, with its pale pine shadows. A square platform is raised off the floor, slightly detached from the stage. In the middle of this is a sort of greenhouse, its frame outlined in bright light, with windows that switch from clear to opaque, that becomes a classroom, a hunting lodge, packed with grunting, shouting men. It conveys a sense of claustrophobia and represents both a place of safety and a source of threat.
Tobias Menzies's performance as Lucas is finely controlled–a quietly devastating portrait of a man whose lonely figure to preserve his dignity takes him to the brink of madness. He is someone who always seems to have something hidden, the control of his face concealing secrets beneath. It is this balance between what is said and what lies unsaid that makes the play so gripping. Excellent support is provided by Michele Austin as a well-meaning teacher and Poppy Miller as Clara's chaotic mother. Three young actresses–Abbiegail Mills, Taya Tower and Florence White–share the role of the reserved and withdrawn Clara. There is also a dog in it who manages to steal the limelight.
In short then, this is a disturbing and powerful drama that you won't forget in a hurry!
Runs at the Almeida Theatre until Saturday 3 August 2019.
Box office: 020 7359 4404.Last modified: July 12, 2019