On its release in 2012, Thomas Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm’s film about a teacher falsely accused of abusing a child was pretty much universally acclaimed – both in its native Denmark and internationally. Since then, there’s been a vital realignment in the way we listen to victims rather than disregard them. What’s the role of such a story now?
The Hunt follows the fallout in a small Danish town after a six-year-old girl’s testimony; the accusation is baseless but the reaction is severe. Surely this isn’t the right time to be staging a play about witch-hunts against men?
But actually, that’s not what this play is about at all, certainly not in David Farr’s supremely nuanced adaptation. Instead, the focus is on the point at which a civilised community becomes feral. It’s about hypocrisy and masculinity; it’s about the rituals that hold groups of people together, and rend them apart. It doesn’t make for an easy watch. Some scenes are deeply, deeply uncomfortable. But it does make for superb theatre.
At the centre of the play is Tobias Menzies, giving an extraordinarily powerful and restrained performance as the accused teacher Lucas, and Taya Tower, as young Clara (although the young cast alternates).
They’re very alike, these two. Tower is absolutely brilliant, reserved and withdrawn almost to the point of being invisible. Menzies comes across as cold and odd, but that’s only because he doesn’t know how to take part in the faux jollity of the people around him. The scenes with Clara, and with his son Marcus – a brief but stunning performance from Stuart Campbell – show how kind and caring he actually is. But when you put Menzies next to his mates from the hunting lodge, a raucous group of boozers and bellowers, the contrast is quite something.
Farr and director Rupert Goold find a way to show how, in these circumstances, the roles of adult and child are reversed. The adults start to see the world in block shapes of black and white, good and evil, while the children are the exponents of complex, contradictory, fragile thoughts.
Es Devlin encapsulates this in her Scandi-bleak set, with its pale pine shades. A square platform is raised off the floor, slightly detached from the theatre. This is a community, after all, that knows how to close ranks and isolate itself. In the middle of this is a glass house, the outline of which is exactly how a child would draw a house – pointy roof and perfectly square sides. This becomes the site of rituals of all kinds – church services, drinking games, interrogations – a hot box for mass hysteria.
There are scenes here that are as fragile as glass, others that blow the roof off. Farr’s adaptation, combined with Goold’s top-of-his-game directing, ensures there isn’t a single moment, not a word, that’s wasted or unnecessary. It is difficult, certainly, but it’s also completely unmissable.