‘The Hunt’ Off Broadway Review: An Angry Village Mob Targets ‘The Crown’ Star Tobias Menzies

The Emmy-winning actor makes an impressive American stage debut

A closeup of actors crowded inside a glass house on stage, lit up with stage lighting.
A production still from "The Hunt" starring Tobias Menzies. (Photo by Teddy Wolff)

The injustice taking place on stage is enough to drive the audience up the brick walls of St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn. An elementary school teacher, played by Tobias Menzies, is falsely accused of molesting one of his 6-year-old students — an accusation that inspires four other students to make similar bogus claims.

What’s a guy to do? And more important, how’s an audience supposed to react to a character being turned into a human bullseye in scene after scene for nearly two hours without intermission? The 2012 film was adapted by David Farr from Thomas Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm’s screenplay and the production was staged by London’s Almeida Theatre, before receiving its American premiere Sunday at St. Ann’s Warehouse.

As you’re scaling the theater walls, “The Hunt” may bring to mind a couple of other plays about teachers being accused of misconduct. There’s Lillian Hellman’s “The Children’s Hour,” in which an accusation turns out to be true, and there’s David Mamet’s “Oleanna,” in which an accusation leads to a furious debate. “The Hunt” doesn’t give us those easy outlets for our pent-up outrage.

The teacher here remains an unblemished victim, and it’s difficult to imagine a more sympathetic one than what Menzies delivers. His Lucas is more than just mild-mannered — he’s the perfect caring father teacher for troubled kids who have problems at home. In fact, the encounter with the child (Kay Winard) happens because her parents (MyAnne Buring and Alex Hassell) are once again late in picking their kid up from school. When they finally do show up, separately, both of them are intoxicated.

Since the first incarnation of “The Hunt” as a Danish-language film starring Mads Mikkelsen, it owes much to a master of the cinema. In Alfred Hitchcock’s films, someone unjustly accused is often on the run, but in his flight he’s forced to confront something about himself that’s dark, something that frightens him more than the people chasing him. Menzies presents that conflict magnificently in “The Hunt,” giving us, the audience, a release for all our rage. The difference is, Lucas isn’t being chased — he’s being ostracized.

This beta-male teacher is the last person one would think might belong to a lodge of deer hunters. Then again, he lives in a small town in the U.K., and if there’s one thing about small towns that’s unpleasant and inescapable is how few options there are for social interaction. There’s the tavern, the church, the school. Either you force yourself to fit in one of those institutions or you’re an outcast. Lucas chooses not to be an outcast, so he goes drinking and hunting with the guys.

Much of “The Hunt” plays out in a small glass house, designed by Es Devlin. Surprisingly, it’s not the teacher who plays most of his scenes here but rather the townspeople who have rejected him. It makes for quite a show, all those bodies (a cast of 13) squeezed into such a small space, their voices amplified but muffled (sound design by Adam Cork).

Sometimes it is too much of a show under the direction of Rupert Goold. One of the shocks of this play is that it’s so firearms-centric. Is this a red state in America or a pastoral village in Old Blighty? Goold has a penchant for spectacle, and here he gussies up the deer hunters with Viking war makeup. When that’s not enough, he has them wear animal headdresses (costumes by Evie Gurney) and stomp around the stage to Cork’s ominous tribal music. The one thing all this excess does achieve is to throw into relief Menzies’ tortured but subtly delivered journey.


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