Paul T Davies reviews The Hunt directed by Rupert Goold now playing at the Almeida Theatre.
26 June 2019
“We are a small community. The happiness of our children is everything. Our hopes and dreams rest in their tiny souls.” So says the Headteacher as she welcomes us to the school’s harvest festival. It’s a small community based on trust, everyone knowing each other. Kind, caring teacher Lucas misses his teenage son, Marcus, who has been moved to the city by his mother following an acrimonies divorce. Adapted by David Farr from the screenplay by Thomas Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm, the play depicts a modern nightmare when Lucas is accused by six-year-old Clara of abuse. We see exactly what happened, we know Lucas is innocent, and the unfolding drama is taut, gripping and involving.
Centre stage is Es Devlin’s superb design, a Perspex Wendy House that is the focus of community foundations- School, lodge, home, church, but ultimately it’s a pressure cooker. We see the men first in swimming trunks, in their lodge, following masculine rituals and rites of passage, hunting, fishing, shooting, and, above all, drinking. Women are still excluded from the lodge, but this is where the men bond and build lifelong friendships. All of which is undermined by the accusation, as Lucas is ostracised and threatened.
In Rupert Goold’s perfectly pitched production, an excellent cast is headed by Tobias Menzies as Lucas. At first, his performance may seem underpowered, but he is capturing perfectly the kindness and caring nature of Lucas, and in the second half he unleashes his anguish and anger about what is being done to him and said about him. As Clara’s parents, Poppy Miller is excellent as Mikala, matched by Justin Salinger’s Theo, both crushed with anguish that their best friend could do something like that. I have to say that, on press night, Taya Tower’s performance as Clara was wonderfully assured, chilling in its complexity, yet we understand why she did it. George Nearn Stuart was also wonderful as cheeky Peter, whose content on his phone leads to the accusation.
The shadow of John Proctor looms over the play, and Lucas is even given the chance of some kind of redemption if he admits to some of the crimes. But, like Miller’s hero, he sticks to the truth, even though it may literally kill him, and is honest about the complexity of what really happened and why. The tension in the second half is palpable, and the presence of nature is always underlined. However, some of the ritualistic elements I felt were a little ‘clean’, the singing in tonally perfect throughout, even the drinking songs, and some of the movement was a little over choreographed, there is a lack of a feral, raw, violent atmosphere hunting Lucas down. A minor criticism though as this is a thrilling night at the theatre, uncomfortable yet involving viewing, a crucible of accusations and complexities.