Dark, gritty and bleak – but that’s to be expected from the stage adaptation of Thomas Vinterberg’s iconic Danish film, which starred Mads Mikkelsen.
What is not as expected is a touching, surprisingly human side that the stage version brings to the tale of mob mentality and small-town prejudice.
In direct opposition to the Danish idea of hygge (cosiness), this play keeps you on the edge of your seat from start to finish.
What an adaptation – slick, clever and near faultless.
The story follows mild-mannered primary school teacher Lucas (Tobias Menzies) through a tale of miscommunication, “innocence” and false accusations of paedophilia.
With some outstanding performances, the only disconnects are some rather uncomfortable, translated songs which don’t quite hit the mark and a confusing Scottish accent from the lead character’s son. Two small, easily forgotten thorns in this critic’s side.
But where to start on the positives? The main draw of this piece is without doubt Es Devlin’s amazing design, and use of theatrical wizardry that is indistinguishable from magic.
The story undergoes a fairytale twist in this incarnation and the use of a Perspex cabin that serves as a vanishing cabinet is theatrical gold.
The mechanics are forgotten as large mythical deer creatures appear and disappear like phantoms in the woods, and the focus on the importance of ritual is interesting.
Clever directing by Rupert Goold really plays with the idea of community and isolation.
The choice to have big scenes squashed into this transparent shed is a stroke of brilliance and effectively creates the tension of a suspicious community.
Performance-wise, of course Tobias Menzies shines in this mouthful of a role. He plays the teacher accused and brought low by a modern witchhunt with every inch of believability, quiet forbearance and dismal heartbreak.
This is his show, but although he shines, the theatrical choices around him almost eclipse his performance.
The rest of the cast understand the off-kilter pace of the show and bring David Farr’s beautiful writing to life with perfect reactions.
Poppy Miller, playing the mother of the girl at the centre of the allegations, burns with visible parental doubt and anger.
Justin Salinger as her husband is striking as both Lucas’s best friend and his undoing.
The casting, and the ability, of the two child actors in the play is truly remarkable – and that’s coming from someone who tends to dislike seeing children on stage (especially if they are singing). Their understanding of the complexity of the play is impressive and whatever process allowed this to exist must be commended.
The Almeida is a wonderfully flexible space, and the simple use of wood, plastic and strip lighting (like a gothic basement designed by IKEA) transforms the space into a small town in rural Denmark.
The costumes and even the phrasing reminds you of its original creation and the questions asked are uncomfortable and important.
This show does it all – scandi-noir, horror, social commentary, comedy and reflective surface to our darkest fears.
The implicit trust of children and the ability for public opinion to be swayed by emotion are stark reminders of the danger’s society can bring. This tale reminds you why you love theatre and sometimes hate people. We see the very best and very worst in this dive into the dark woods of human thought.
In the great tradition of plays improving on films, The Hunt keeps all the gloom and moral thrashing but provides a more surreal, artistic look at the story and is both unrelenting and unprecedented.
And if that’s not enough for you, you can see eight men in speedos in a cabin covered in water. Sold yet?
The Hunt runs until 3 August at the Almeida Theatre, Almeida Street, N1 1TA.