March 2, 2024

"The Hunt" Kind of Misses the Mark


We’re now used to getting musicals based on movies but it’s rarer for a straight play to be adapted from a film. However that’s the case with The Hunt, which opened this week at St. Ann’s Warehouse following a run at London's Almeida Theatre in 2019.  

But just as so many musicals have done, the staged version of "The Hunt" has failed to capture the very qualities that made the film special and worth adapting in the first place. 

Directed and co-written by the Danish director Thomas Vinterberg, the film tells the story of a recently-divorced kindergarten teacher named Lucas whose life unravels when he’s falsely accused of exposing himself to one of his little students. 

Almost everyone in the rural town where he lives turns on Lucas to the point that he begins to fear for his life. It’s such an affecting morality tale about the dangers of mass hysteria that the film was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2013.

The stage adaption by David Farr hews fairly closely to that storyline. But its effectiveness is undermined by the ways in which the story is told. The film is subtle in its storytelling but right from the start, director Rupert Goold amps up the onstge fireworks. 

The film opens with a scene that establishes Lucas’ role as an integral part of the community. A group of his friends are showing off their manliness by skinny dipping in the frigid waters of the local lake but when one of them cramps up, it’s Lucas who, fully dressed, dives in and saves him. 

The St. Ann's production starts off with the local men literally beating their bare chests, stomping their feet and chanting in a ritualistic fashion that's not only supposed to display their manliness but foreshadows their coming barbarism. Meanwhile Lucas is nowhere to be seen. It's as though he's already an outsider before he's even been accused of doing anything wrong.

Goold seems more interested in the look of his production than its content. And to be fair, some of the images he and his team have created are hauntingly beautiful. 

The trendy set designer Es Devlin (click here to read about her) has created one of those glass boxes that have become the way that British productions (Yerma, The Lehmann Trilogy) now signal that they are really cool. 

Shaped like a kid’s drawing of a house, Devlin's box stands in for the school, the town church, various homes, and the local lodge where the menfolk hangout, drink and talk about guns. 

But the box is especially effective when the lighting by designer Neil Austin turns its walls opaque and the structure becomes a physical manifestation of how shortsighted the townspeople are.

The British actor Tobias Menzies plays Lucas (click here to read a piece about him). Menzies, perhaps best known as Prince Phillip to Olivia Colman’s Queen Elizabeth in the middle seasons of the Netflix series “The Crown,” is too good an actor to fail to elicit sympathy for Lucas. But the show’s ending, which varies in a significant way from the film’s and even from the play's printed script, renders his plight less poignant. 

There’s also something a bit unsettling about watching this show in 2024. The film came out five years before the revelations about the movie producer Harvey Weinstein's sexually predatory behavior sparked the #MeToo movement. The environment is different now.

Throughout the film, the girl’s parents say they believe their child. But even though her accusations aren’t malicious but rather a product of childish anger prompted by Lucas’ rejection of a present she made for him, they still ruin a good man's life. 

The events of the past few years, including the recent verdict in E. Jean Carroll’s suit against Donald Trump, have reminded us that accusers in these situations are usually telling the truth. So I found myself wondering why I was sitting in a theater watching a story centered around the opposite point of view.  

No comments: