A child abuse allegation in a small town leaves loyalties unclear in this new production by the Almeida.
Almeida Theatre’s latest offering, The Hunt, is an adaptation of the highly successful Danish-indie film thriller by Thomas Vinterberg. Adapted for the stage by David Farr, whose TV credits include glitzy titles such as Spooks and Night Manager, it is directed by Rupert Goold and stars Tobias Menzies, who will soon be seen as Prince Philip in season three of Netflix’s The Crown. The Almeida has had a stellar run in the last few years and many of its productions have wowed me. So why did this Scandi-Noir inspired stage production leave me feeling colder than a snow-covered fjord?
The play opens with head teacher of the local kindergarten Hilde (played by Michele Austin), speaking directly to the audience to introduce the protagonist Lucas (Tobias Menzies) and establishing the timing as just after the harvest. The seasons frame the plot: we begin in autumn, the height of the drama takes place in the darkest of winter, and the story concludes in spring. As the set is highly minimalist – evoking the Scandi-aesthetic we have come to admire in Britain – much of the setting is expressed through the dialogue, so the script rapidly tumbles into exposition. Adapting a film into a play must have its limitations, not least because a film uses various visual tricks to inform an audience of the complexities of characters and time, whereas The Hunt on stage evidently did not have this luxury.
Following the opening, we meet Lucas, who is a ‘good guy’. We know this because many characters say it: Hilde, who he works for in the kindergarten says it, his mate Gunner says it, his best friend’s wife says it. All within the first 10 minutes. Lucas himself also implies it when we first meet him. He stays calm even in the presence of an irrational ex-wife who we only hear through phone exchanges. The children in Lucas’ care adore him. Until they don’t.
The drama revolves around one incident: Klara (played by child actor Taya Tower) misreads Lucas’ kindness and instigates an inappropriate kiss, rejected by Lucas. As revenge for her humiliation she falsely accuses Lucas of sexual assault. We as the audience know it did not play out that way, but the remainder of the drama explores the reaction of this small Danish town. Lucas’ old school friends, coalescing around a hunting lodge, turn on him. The only friend he has left is his dog Max (played by a real dog), who meets a less than pleasant fate.
The mechanics of life in a small, rural community is always an interesting place for drama, although it is certainly well-trodden at this point. The claustrophobia of this town life is symbolised in the major piece of set design: a transparent hut in the middle of the stage. It is a thrifty piece of design, including a couple of visually arresting opportunities to squeeze the entire cast into the same place. Yet there was nothing in the town folk’s response and obvious hypocrisy that offered an especially new perspective on small town life, which affected the play as a whole.
A good, hard-working, quiet male protagonist who has his life turned upside down – without much input from him – is not especially new ground for any story, told in any format. What was especially jarring, however, was the fact that everything bad that happened to Lucas was the result of a woman. His ex-wife, who is implicitly portrayed as insane without the audience ever meeting her, and the manipulative five-year-old girl that engineered his downfall, are the masters of his grief – and there is never a moment when Lucas himself does anything wrong. His hyper-masculine friends are not without fault in this tragedy, but what the play asks us to critique is their quickness to believe that child rather than Lucas’ conduct. The play may appear to be a veiled criticism of society’s reactions to accusations of child abuse. And while false allegations are made, the majority of victims of child abuse are not falsely-accused middle-aged men, but vulnerable children.
Despite strong performances from the entire cast (including both children and animals) and quite impressive staging, the plot and the characters were too weak to really get behind. Lucas, a good guy that keeps things bottled up, never did anything to contribute to the plot – everything simply happened to him, and therefore lacked the kind of tension that a thriller might offer.
The Hunt is showing at the Almeida Theatre until 3 August 2019.
Photo Credit: Marc Brenner
Reclaim Your Stage:
The Platform is a groundbreaking blog that provides current affairs and cultural commentary. Our pieces offer challenging opinions from a range of spectrums; that’s why we love hosting a platform for them.