Review: In The Hunt, Tobias Menzies Plays a Man Falsely Accused

The Almeida Theatre production makes its US debut at St. Ann’s Warehouse.

Tobias Menzies (center) stars in David Farr’s adaptation of The Hunt, directed by Rupert Goold, for Almeida Theatre at St. Ann’s Warehouse.
(© Teddy Wolff)

My first crush was on a male counselor at a YMCA day camp in suburban Cincinnati. He was Australian, extravagantly mustachioed with a mullet of thick red hair. I had never seen or heard anyone like him before. I was transfixed and made my affections known. I was 5 years old.

With adult hindsight, I can appreciate how awkward this situation must have been for him, and how well he handled it — not discouraging my nascent homosexuality, but making it clear that we could only ever be friends. Not every child is so fortunate, nor is every adult able to navigate these situations so deftly, as we see in David Farr’s provocative and powerful drama The Hunt, now making its US premiere at St. Ann’s Warehouse under the banner of Almeida Theatre, which originally presented the play at its London home in 2019.

Based on the Academy Award-nominated 2012 film by Thomas Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm, The Hunt begins at a kindergarten in Northern Denmark, where Lucas (Tobias Menzies) is the new teacher. “I need you to wipe my bottom,” commands young Peter (Rumi C. Jean-Louis and Christopher Riley alternate the role) as he emerges from the bathroom. This is not an Anne Geddes print brought to life, but Lucas seems to genuinely enjoy working with kids. When one of his students, Clara (Aerina DeBoer and Kay Winard), reveals that she has a little crush on Lucas, he gently rebuffs her. Scorned and confused, Clara tells the head of the school (Lolita Chakrabarti) that Lucas exposed himself to her, setting in motion a series of events that threaten Lucas’s livelihood and life.

Tobias Menzies plays Lucas, and Aerina DeBoer plays Clara in David Farr’s adaptation of The Hunt, directed by Rupert Goold, for Almeida Theatre at St. Ann’s Warehouse.
(© Teddy Wolff)

We know Lucas is innocent. We watched his encounter with Clara and saw that he did nothing wrong. But the well-meaning adults in this story don’t know that, and they quite reasonably take Clara’s accusation seriously. Farr painstakingly shows how little misunderstandings and the best of intentions can lead to irrevocable harm, how moral panics are contagious, and how the noble impulse to protect the most vulnerable is intimately tied to ancient and darkly tribal instincts.

Director Rupert Goold spells this out with his ritualistic staging, which features men grunting and beating their chests in the scene transitions. All members of a hunting lodge in this rural community, they wear plaid and streak their faces with war paint (costume designer Evie Gurney finds telling variation in this uniform). We feel Adam Cork’s percussion-heavy music in our chests as the actors violently dance around the stage like Vikings preparing for war (movement by Kel Matsena). Lucas was once a valued member of this clan, and Goold shows us the pitiless nature of his expulsion.

Set designer Es Devlin has placed a small glass house at the center of the stage, which threatens to devolve into a giant rotating metaphor. Luckily, it never does, providing the show with some of its most striking moments: It’s the hermetically sealed office in which Clara recounts her story to a child protection officer (Howard Ward). It’s the hunting lodge from which Lucas is excommunicated. It’s an overcrowded church on Christmas Eve when Lucas’s very presence shames these alleged Christians. Actors appear and disappear within this glass box, revealed and concealed by Neil Austin’s precise and sharply executed lighting. It’s the key to Goold’s clever slight-of-hand and a physical manifestation of a system that, once set in motion, is very hard to stop.

The cast of the U.S. premiere of David Farr’s adaptation of The Hunt, directed by Rupert Goold, for Almeida Theatre at St. Ann’s Warehouse.
(© Teddy Wolff)

The actors provide the humanity within this whirling machine: As Clara’s parents, MyAnna Buring and Alex Hassell give us a glimpse at Clara’s fraught home life with just a few exchanges. While they initially circle the wagons, it is fascinating to see the gulf open between them as it becomes clear that Clara’s story doesn’t add up. Raphael Casey gives a beautiful performance as Lucas’s son, Markus, who sticks by his dad even when the whole town is against him. So does his trusty dog, Max, expertly trained here by the always-excellent William Berloni.

An actor of incredible restraint, Menzies movingly portrays Lucas’s lonely struggle. His eyes seem to want to say so much more than he does, but his brain tells him to keep his cool. There are no thunderous Sorkinesque monologues here, just a man trying to regain what he has unjustly lost, unsure if he ever really can. It’s hard not to choke up as we watch him shield his face from Markus, lest his son see him crack under the immense weight of his ostracization.

London critics have called The Hunt a tale of “small-town savagery,” but you’d have to have a pretty short memory to forget the savage summary judgments of the #MeToo Movement, when so many cosmopolitan elites embraced the comforting lie that there are no false accusations. We’re just now climbing down from this noxious orthodoxy and the dreadful agitprop it produced. Plays like The Hunt, presented away from Broadway and the West End, are a big part of that course correction. By hosting the US debut of this exceptionally brave drama, St. Ann’s Warehouse reasserts itself as an indispensable theater in New York City.

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The Hunt

Closed: March 24, 2024