Review - The Hunt at the Almeida Theatre
The Almeida previously struck theatrical gold in 2004 with a stage version of Thomas Vinterberg's 1998 Danish film Festen, chronicling a disturbing story of child abuse in a family, that subsequently transferred to the West End and also (briefly) to Broadway. Now it achieves a similar sense of churning unease with another story of child abuse, adapted by David Farr from another Vinterberg film Jagten, originally released in 2012.
But this time the tables of doubt are turned entirely: it is the child who is the unreliable accuser as a nursery teacher Lucas, recently separated from his wife of 15 years, finds himself wrongly accused by one of his young chargers - who happens also to be the daughter of a childhood friend of his, and with whom he regularly goes deer hunting.
Rupert Goold, the Almeida's artistic director, brings a cinematic fluidity to a masterfully-told story whose tensions are minutely calibrated. I was on the edge of my seat with anxiety. It is told with frequent sleights of theatrical hand, including a rotating glass box of a set centre stage in which scenes are rapidly reset and characters can appear as if from nowhere. Designer Es Devlin is one of the stars of a show that also has one of the most extraordinary soundscapes from sound designer and composer Adam Cork to ratchet up the tension, while Neil Austin's lighting contributes its own terrors.
The ordinary terrors of the consequences of this false accusation, as Lucas's life goes into rapid freefall, are played with a shocking, desperate realism by Tobias Menzies, but no less extraordinary is the apparent innocence of his young accuser Clara, played on press night by Taya Tower. Her parents are stunning played by Justin Salinger and Poppy Miller, vacillating between blind fury and their own doubts.
It's a gripping, unsettling evening - not easy to watch, but impossible to look away from.
The Hunt is at the Almeida until 13th August.