Reviews West End & Central Published 27 June 2019

Review: The Hunt at Almeida Theatre

17th June - 3rd August 2019

“You’re ignoring me”: Ava Wong Davies battles with her doubts about Rupert Goold’s slick but uncomfortable narrative of male innocence.

Ava Wong Davies

‘The Hunt’ at Almeida Theatre. Photo: Marc Brenner

The Hunt is very well done. There’s really no denying it. Es Devlin’s set is slick and chilly. Botis Seva’s choric choreography is sometimes twitchy, sometimes full-blooded, always edging on terrifying. Tobias Menzies burrows so deep into Lucas’s broken psyche that you wonder how he crawls out of it every night. Rupert Goold utilises the revolve very well. Revolves are hard to get right, aren’t they?

Ava.

There’s a constant, skin-prickling sense of dread. Dread, dread, dread. It slips and sticks under your skin. I could feel my heart straining out of my chest in that final scene, and I already knew how it ended.

Hey.

Shush.

And there are these weird, crunchy twists into horror – where you see a shirtless man, confined into Devlin’s creepy, claustrophobic perspex house, with an enormous stag skull for a head – okay, sure, they feel a bit like Ned Bennett jump scares, but they’re atmospheric and effective. And, alright, there are problems with the script too – all the words felt a bit too clear, a bit too raised up, a little too self-consciously dramatique for my taste. A bit calculated. You can see the cogs turning in the text. There’s a bit where Lucas yells, “That is not what I am!” which is some weird, John Proctor-adjacent phrasing.

Hellooooo.

God. What?

You’re ignoring me.

I’m not ignoring you. You’re me. I can’t ignore me.

You had issues with it.

I was just getting into my issues with it.

Actual issues. Not just the nitpicky shit.

I didn’t have –

At the interval you went outside to chat to some people and you went really quiet.

Well, I was thinking about the show. Intently. Like a critic. Which I am.

You seemed pretty uncomfortable.

Of course I do, it’s the Almeida. On a press night. It’s fucking intimidating. Listen, I don’t  –

So why did you message all your friends after the show and say, “I don’t know what I thought about that and I don’t know how to write my review”?

See?

Fine. But I just think that maybe I was being a little bit churlish.

Churlish how?

I dunno. Part of me was right there with it. It’s kinda impossible to not be caught up in it. Goold’s direction is super snappy and pacy, and the transitions are so supple because they’re built into the fabric of the production. Goold produces entertaining productions with all the ease of making a cup of tea. And the text is inherently so super dramatic – it’s structured like a tragedy –

What’s it about?

What?

You didn’t tell us what it’s about. You never do in your reviews. It’s a bad habit. Sort it out.

Right, okay – it’s based on the Danish film by Thomas Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm, adapted by David Farr –

I didn’t ask for a Wikipedia entry.

It’s about a schoolteacher who’s lived in the same town his entire life, and he’s accused of paedophilia by his six year old pupil. Oh, and he’s innocent. That’s important. There’s never any doubt that he’s not innocent. And the town turns against him. So it’s a tragedy – he makes a choice which spirals out of control, but also it’s like fate is conspiring against him too. Ergo, the heavily utilised revolve. And there are some really arresting images – the stag-man, like I said, but also a rifle head being slotted into a soft mouth, foam classroom toys being spilt onto a head, a sticky-red heart shaped lollipop… Anyway – it’s like being engaged is built into the play’s DNA. Tragedy – it taps into something deep inside us. We follow it like hunting dogs track a dying, bled-out deer.

There’s a big ‘but’ coming.

Yeah. Well. I just think that choosing to do a play about a man falsely accused of paedophilia and sexual abuse in our current socio-political climate is a very deliberate choice that’s been made. A non-neutral decision, you might say.

Mate. You’re opening a can of worms here.

I know. A big part of me wishes I could squish that feeling down, throw it away. This is what I meant when I said I think I’m being churlish. Am I reading too much into it? Being too sensitive? Maybe.

No, you’re not.

Well, yeah. Because how could you not read into it? Tobias Menzies said in an interview that it was interesting to do this play “off the back of MeToo.” It’s there. That stuff is there.

Good. Keep going.

And it’s interesting, because he’s incredibly noble, Lucas. He’s innocent!! There’s no doubting his innocence! But he’s flawed, of course. The script is too smart for him not to be flawed. He’s a tragic hero. He’s had/is having an affair with his best friend’s wife. See? Flaws! See the anguish in Tobias Menzies’ eyes? Of course you do! Everyone is flawed! No-one does anything terrible! We’re all just humans! Now the townspeople are turning against him! They say he’s not guilty until he’s tried but they’re turning against him anyway!! They have flaming torches and they’re surrounding him! Like a witch hunt? MAYBE!

Sigh.

Yeah. Sigh. That bit felt particularly annoying. It’s weird, it’s ostensibly quite nuanced, but simultaneously shallow. Also, Christ on a bike, that bit with the dog.

Yep. Jesus.

It was a great dog.

Oh yeah. Really fucking fluffy.

Very chilled out. Came on twice. But it did make me think of that bit in The Writer where she’s like “Do we need a baby onstage for us to pay attention??”

Yeah. It was a gimmick. You did not need that dog. What, you’re gonna put a whole dog onstage but you’re still only gonna cast maximum two people of colour per production at your theatre?

We should probably cut that bit.

I really don’t care. Because it’s true. It’s been like that so far, and when it changes I will happily rescind that statement. God I’m tired. Lucas is handled with such care. Such dignity. Much grace, many nuance. And while I was watching this noble, dignified, innocent man being totally, wrongly vilified, at the back of my mind was Trump saying that E Jean Carroll was “totally lying” and “so not my type.” We have this really loving depiction of a Good Man whose life is ripped out of his hands because his community decide that that should be the case – we have that here, and we have Bitter Wheat, and we have had The Crucible, and yet we are still averse to having an equally tender, nuanced, empathetic depiction of an abuse victim on our stages – and in society more generally. Why?

Well, we all know why.

I didn’t trust The Hunt. I really didn’t. That’s why I stood outside for ages afterwards feeling weird and shaky. You know, for a while watching it I was like – is this gonna be a play about heteronormative, cis masculinity? Because we need that play. We do! And we need it to be written by a cis straight guy. And it hints at maybe being that play – the way the men teeter on the edge of violence and intimacy constantly, the way they oscillate between absolute emotional clarity and fogginess. The way they can or can’t speak to each other about their feelings. But then it moves on and it isn’t that play. And that’s fine, it’s telling a different story. But why tell that story, now, when others are so much more pressing?

Yeah. Why bring a fucking dog onstage?

The Hunt is on at Almeida Theatre until 3rd August. More info and tickets here

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Ava Wong Davies is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

Review: The Hunt at Almeida Theatre Show Info


Directed by Rupert Goold

Written by Adapted by David Farr

Cast includes Tobias Menzies, Michele Austin, Justin Salinger, Poppy Miller

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