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“The Hunt” reviewed

Based on a 2012 Nordic noir film of the same name, David Farr’s The Hunt first bowed on stage at London’s Almeida Theatre in 2019 and follows a small, tight-knit Danish community. It is a parable about how a loving, supportive community can turn hateful instantly. Lucas Bruun, played with aplomb by Tobias Menzies (best known for Game of Thrones and The Crown), is a recent divorcé with a special kind of patience only a kindergarten teacher can possess. He’s the town’s most eligible bachelor, but his quiet focus is on his students, loyal dog, hunting buddies, and, most of all, his 16-year-old son, Marcus.

Lucas’s hopes for Marcus coming to live with him unravel when his student Klara — his best friend’s daughter — falsely accuses him of sexual misconduct. The town ostracizes him, causing Lucas to experience false guilt and recede into a dark place. Menzies, who reprises his role from the London production, delivers a top-tier performance. His quiet charm makes the vitriol spewed from his community of close friends and colleagues all the more dramatic.

In addition to a winning cast, The Hunt has a best-in-class production design. Es Devlin’s set showcases a structure made of smart glass, which frosts instantaneously to allow actors to magically appear and disappear from scenes. (It’s made all the more incredible with a trapdoor beneath the stage.) The glass transforms into the classroom, the hunting lodge, and even the town’s church. As the play moves forward, it fills with more and more townspeople, with Lucas circling the outside on a spinning stage.

All the production elements work together seamlessly to offer an immersive, almost cinematic experience. Scenes with an eerie soundscape of rustling trees (sound designer Adam Cork) and pitch-black lighting (lighting designer Neil Austin) transport the audience to a dangerous forest. Audience members took several collective breaths, released a few audible gasps, and turned heads in the dark to see what might be lurking. Fair warning: There are gunshot sound effects.

But for a play about a man embroiled in a disciplinary hearing for alleged sexual misconduct with a child, there are moments of levity under the deft direction of Rupert Goold. Transitional scenes featuring raucous movement and singing punctuate the intense scenes. A hunting party — sometimes in swim briefs and sometimes in hunting vests — rouses the audience with Nordic drinking songs. The joyful noise makes the intimate moments all the more palpable. One standout scene occurs on Christmas, when Lucas’s quiet reserve finally breaks down after Marcus gives him a present.

The 100-minute play, sans intermission, moves at a fast clip. After the standing ovation, the person behind me shouted they might be sick; another said they needed a stiff drink. The audience filed out, a chorus of amazement. It was truly the most exhilarating production I’ve seen in a while. Like a hunting season with plentiful game, there are many shows this theatre season. Don’t miss your shot to see The Hunt.

The Hunt is at St. Ann’s Warehouse through March 24.