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FringeReview UK 2019

Low Down

Thomas Vinterberg Tobias Lindholm’s 2012 film The Hunt in a version by David Farr is directed by Rupert Goold. Es Devlin’s set features two revolves where a semi-transparent hut centring it. It blackens or becomes iridescent with Neil Austin’s lighting.


It’s like a pre-show announcement. Michele Austin’s Head teacher Hilde bustles onto the stage welcoming us all to Harvest and after the interval more darkly for Christmas. Denmark’s a group-oriented place; Hilde underlines how much. ‘We are a small community. The happiness of our children is everything. Our hopes and dreams rest in their tiny souls.’ You’ll sense where this is going, not for the moment how.


Hilde’s colleague Lucas, a primary schoolteacher marked out as inscrutable in a group-oriented society, is wrongly accused of molestation by a six-year-old he’s known all his life. Her parents are Lucas’ oldest friends, the wife even feels she should have chosen him. Soon she wants his testicles spiked on her gate.


This isn’t the first time film-maker Thomas Vinterberg’s been adapted at the Almeida His Festen adapted by David Eldridge premiered in 2004. It dealt with the opposite of what’s offered here; community skewered in celebration is still a theme. In 2012 collaborating with Tobias Lindholm Vinterberg produced The Hunt. Now in a version by David Farr, directed by Rupert Goold, it flays the bewildered values of a community famed for its happiness, confronted by its own primal fear and loathing.


Indeed there’s dark scalloped edges of the primal lurking around Es Devlin’s set, two revolves where a semi-transparent hut centring it serves as apparent refuge, a kind of prison, and oppressively-packed hut for the Lodge’s Iron John-like meets and near-naked bonding, a small community at church, baying; a hunted man’s home. It blackens or becomes iridescent with Neil Austin’s lighting which also makes darkness visible. Things with antlers stalk like something out of H. P. Lovecraft.


Tobias Menzies is all contained conscience, first seen talking on the phone to his embittered loud wife Susanna about seeing their 16-year-old son Marcus (Stuart Campbell) who’s desperate to live with him. ‘How can my staying calm make you explode?’ There’s always an ambiguity. Lucas displays some elements we associate with paedophiles: but they’re the boundaries inherited from his father’s seeking privacy on ice trawlers, not controlling traits. His very introversion makes him vulnerable.


He tells this to Justin Salinger’s Theo his heavy-drinking friend in relation to his own father, a drunk. Salinger’s dangerously veering Theo is one of those obstacles of gone-wrong friendship that linger because it’s a small town. By then the isolated transmission of family traits, seemingly undisturbed by modernity, underscores how devastatingly close all these characters are. Lucas refuses to leave his town.


Throughout Menzies balances dignity with incredulity, empathic coping with being everyone’s go-to: here staying late to wait for two children’s parents whilst Hilde makes off for a hot date. He knows them in particular the bickering Theo and Mikala (Poppy Miller) who turn up separately, Mikala making a move even then on Lucas, complaining Theo’s drunkenness renders him impotent. Miller’s turned–up warmth sways between attraction and shuddering fury and back. Each layer in these first scenes winds tight


Menzies ensures Lucas’ lucidity, his containment doesn’t lack warmth – the only one who understands everyone else He’s a liberal acute enough to realize his mistake. Which was, correctly, it seems, refusing an intimacy from young Clara – here the excellent Abbiegail Mills, mixing new knowing with devastating innocence. She’s seen something her friend Peter shows her (here the engagingly extrovert George Nearn Stuart). Realizing Clara’s like him introverted Lucas gently corrects her: her action’s ‘for mummies and daddies’. Momentarily Clara’s furious, remembers something, lies, soon forgets she’s lied and copycat allegations start up. Throughout Menzies’ Lucas refuses to retreat or bargain-plea.


He even shows up at the Lodge celebrations, core bonding for the towns’ men, presided over by Peter’s father, loud avuncular Gunner, both overpowering and threatening in Danny Kirrane’s bear-hug of a performance: with claws. Several drinking songs punctuate almost from the start. He demands early on Lucas fetch his sixteen-year-old son Marcus for initiation. It’s already late. Later the named chorus – Adrian Der Gregorian, Keith Higham, Itoya Osagiede, Jethro Skinner and Howard Ward (also board member and pastor) – want to hunt Lucas down.


Whilst Menzies is outstanding, Austin, Salinger, Kirrane, Miller and (in this performance) Mills and Nearn Stuart are superb too, and there’s fine support from the flawless cast.


What happens in small communities to those who can’t bellow kinship is a universal microcosm diagnosed here with peculiar force. Clear parallels with (particularly) The Crucible and The Children’s Hour don’t make it any less unique. There’s ambivalence right to the end, and one mystery is why Lucas even bothers staying in the aftermath. An outstandingly theatrical re-visioning of a film not everyone’s seen, it’s found an unsettling home on stage.