‘The Hunt’ review

Theatre, Drama
3 out of 5 stars
The Hunt, Almeida, 2019
© Marc Brenner

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Tobias Menzies is great in this mixed success adaptation of Thomas Vinterberg’s thriller

Adapted from Thomas Vinterberg’s 2012 film ‘Jagten’, about a schoolteacher in a rural Danish community who is falsely accused of paedophilia, David Farr’s ‘The Hunt’ is a tricky and troubling drama that leaves you guessing until late in the day exactly what it wants to say.

Which is maybe a problem, because in 2019 there is something potentially unhelpful about a drama that feeds into a narrative about men as the victims of false abuse claims.

In fact, ‘The Hunt’ is not the men’s rights odyssey it initially promises to be, but a disturbing, thrilling and sometimes clunky look at toxic masculinity and its offshoots.

Following his divorce, Lucas (Tobias Menzies) has returned to his rural hometown, establishing himself as a well-liked primary school teacher. All is going well enough for him. But then a weird encounter with troubled pupil Clara leads to her erroneously accusing him of molesting her.

Lucas attempts to clear his name... but as time passes, the fact of his innocence becomes less and less relevant. Even as the police clear him, the neighbours who’ve ostracised him refuse to give up the righteousness of their cause, and cling to an anger clearly rooted in a certain level of self-loathing. (If you absolutely wanted to call it a parable about Brexit, I guess you could).

The title has several applications, but clearly alludes to the boozy, macho hunting lodge Lucas belongs to, along with most of the rest of the men in the small town. Squished into the small greenhouse-like structure that constitutes the bulk of Es Devlin’s set, there is something unnerving about the men and their drinking songs from the off. As the play wears on, stag-skulled dancers appear in the glasshouse and around the men, often accompanied by poundingly intense drums. Slowly their anger and fury build into something ritualistic and rite-like – toxic masculinity as a dark ceremony.

If only there were a bit more of this: Almeida boss Rupert Goold’s flashy staging can feel distracting early on when ‘The Hunt’ feels like a straightforward story of an innocent wronged, but maybe doesn’t go far enough later on. I was yearning for it to go completely berserk, but it never quite erupts, and feels hidebound by some of the film’s plotting. It feels like Goold’s theatricality and the naturalistic, thriller-ish source material often work against each other. 

But at their best, Devlin’s set and those skeletal stags conjure moments of magic. And Menzies is great as an innocent man damned in part by his emotional chilliness and inability to allay the suspicions of others. Despite the fact there is no doubt as to his innocence, he remains a fascinatingly ambiguous figure, who rarely helps himself in his responses to the developing situation.

When ‘The Hunt’ gets going it really gets going. And there’s a really great actual dog in it, which counts for a lot.

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