A Lacerating Drama, ‘The Hunt’ Follows the Fallout After a Popular Teacher Is Accused of a Sordid Act

We are reminded, through the play’s many twists, that crimes and miscarriages of justice can take many different forms, all of which can have enduring consequences — and not just for those who point fingers.

Teddy Wolff
Tobias Menzies and Aerina DeBoer in 'The Hunt.' Teddy Wolff

The new play “The Hunt” is based on a 2012 Danish film, titled “Jagten” in its native language, which put forth a theory that seemed a little less radical at that time than now: that not all men accused of sexual assault are guilty.

In the Thomas Vinterberg movie, co-written by the director and Tobias Lindholm, and this stage production, adapted by David Farr and helmed by Rupert Goold, the accuser is not a woman but, even more disturbingly, a child. The protagonist, Lucas, is a well-liked teacher at an “infants school” — a term used across the pond, roughly equivalent to a preschool — when a student charges him with a sordid act. 

As traced in this staging, which just opened at St. Ann’s Warehouse at Brooklyn, the fallout is swift and excruciating. Mr. Goold’s penchant for flamboyant, lacerating drama has marked noteworthy productions both here and in his native Britain, where “Hunt” had its premiere, ranging from a “Macbeth” starring Patrick Stewart to a musical adaptation of the Bret Easton Ellis novel “American Psycho.”

Here the director has a key ally in one of his “Psycho” collaborators, the scenic designer Es Devlin, whose own numerous credits include the trans-Atlantic triumph “The Lehman Trilogy.” Ms. Devlin’s set for “Hunt” is relatively spare; its central and dominant feature is a structure resembling a small house, which by turns functions as a school office, a lodge, and a church, among other settings.

Tobias Menzies and Raphael Casey in ‘The Hunt.’ Teddy Wolff

Neil Austin’s lighting frames the structure brightly at times, but always directs us toward its inner activity; a crucial exchange or confrontation can end in a flash, bringing about darkness or turning the glass-like walls opaque, as if warning us that even what we see and hear directly can’t always be trusted. The men who populate this small town are periodically seen cramming within and skulking about, shouting and singing in almost comical but increasingly ominous displays of hyper-masculine camaraderie.

Lucas, portrayed by British actor Tobias Menzies, known best in our parts for playing the middle-aged Prince Philip on the popular Netflix series “The Crown,” is immediately established in stark contrast to these chaps. While we learn that the character is an ace shooter, he is teased by the others, in an early hunting scene, for having once been stopped in his tracks by overwhelming feelings of tenderness toward a doe.

There will be other references to this animal, symbolic of innocence at its most vulnerable, as the charges against Lucas inevitably expand in number and detail, and friends and colleagues turn against him and to psychological and eventually physical violence; the results, which at one point involve Lucas’s beloved dog, can be harrowing. 

Through nearly all of it, Mr. Menzies retains an almost preternatural sense of quiet composure, emphasizing the capacity for controlling — or stifling — emotions that may at first seem like an asset, but that threaten to undo Lucas. “You keep it all in,” he tells one of his pupils, the product of a troubled marriage. “I can be a bit like that too, so I understand.”

The little girl, who will emerge as a significant character, was played at a recent preview by the extraordinary child actress Aerina DeBoer (Kay Winard alternates in the role), who never lets us forget how the lies of the very young, particularly the more fanciful and confused, can differ from those told by their elders. Other standouts amid an excellent cast include Raphael Casey, touching as Lucas’s fiercely loyal teenage son; Alex Hassell, at once raw and nuanced as Lucas’s conflicted best friend; and MyAnna Buring, witty and haunting as the friend’s wife, for whom the play’s twists have deep personal relevance. 

We are reminded, through these twists, that crimes and miscarriages of justice can take many different forms, all of which can have enduring consequences — and not just for those who point fingers.

The New York Sun

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