Hunters and Deer

Thomas Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm, adapted by David Farr: The Hunt, Almeida Theatre, London (Director: Rupert Goold)

By Sascha Krieger

In his film The Hunt, Thomas Vinterberg tells the story of an elementary schoolteacher falsely accused of sexually abusing a young girl. It depicts how he is ostracised, shut out from every aspect of community life, how his friends become a mob and fear turns into hate. It does so with stark naturalism, focusing on the everyday, the day to day struggles that form the nightmare that is bow his wife. In their tight theatre adaptation, David Farr and Rupert Goold swap the realism for a more ritualistic approach.

Image: Sascha Krieger

The community is depicted as held together by rites, by the ceremonial collective reassurances of what us still a strongly masculinity-driven society. An archaic feeling initiation ceremony opens the play, another all but closes it. Everything is a ritual, primitive instincts reign – symbolised by the nightmarish deer creatures appearing repeatedly – civilisation is just a new wallpaper over something much older and much more robust. This is a hunting town, a symbol of simpler societies, where things are clearer less complex. They hunt. For a living, for recreation and to solve their problems. Sometimes deer, sometimes people. It’s their core ritual, their community creator, that which keeps things in place.

Es Devlin has created another of his geometric, more minimalist set designs: a square with a small hut that is transparent at times, opaque at others. It is the inside and outside of the community, all one, a glass house in which everything is visible and nothing is revealed, transparency that blinds the eyes. The hut revolves, as all goes in circles. A vortex of revenge and hate but also the communal circle, in which all is renewed – such as the ritual male companionship at the end when the teacher’s son becomes initiated, drawn into the circle, joining the hunt.

The cast is excellent, the direction as minimalist as the set. Tobias Menzies turns in an impressive performance as the confused, serious, controlled Lucas whose existential crisis is even more devastating because it is served with so much eyes. Being cast out is a quiet process, a disappearance act met with quiet, stubborn resistance. His counterpart is the wildly talented Stuart Campbell as his mire volcanic teenage son, exhibiting all the anger his father doesn’t allow before assimilating in the end. Most of the others are somewhat more of stereotypes and while Poppy Miller and Justin Salinger five strong performances as the girl’s troubled parents, there is a little too much emphasis on finding an explanation for the girl’s accusation in their dysfunctional relationship.

Which leads straight into the main issue of this production: its abstract ritualism, laying bare the dark side of community, the mechanics of persecution and its society defining role, clashes with its psychological layer, the exploration of the effects an der existential earthquake like the accusation made has on the collective and the individual, the search for answers and ways out. There are two plays here: a psychological drama and a ritualistic social panorama, naturalism and symbolism and they go together rather uneasily. They wrestle with each other, somewhat neutralising each other’s impact. Thus, the production remains strangely undecided, its temperature never exceeding the lukewarm, like an experiment watched through a safe screen. It shows existential devastation and how it develops but cannot even come close to conveying how it feels.

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