Halfway through The Hunt one of the characters, a man sharpening a large blade, sings sweetly: “Each town has its witch, each parish its troll…”
The subject of the witch hunt in this play by David Farr, based on Thomas Vinterberg’s 2012 Danish film Jagten, is Lucas (Tobias Menzies), a teacher falsely accused of sexual assault by six-year-old Clara, a girl in his class who is also the daughter of his best friend.
The resulting hysteria has a devastating effect not just on Lucas but on the tightly-knit community in northern Denmark where he lives.
This is a place where the men of the town are bonded by guns, beer drinking and midnight rituals in their hunting lodge in the forest. What could possibly go wrong?
Es Devlin’s stark set has at its centre a brightly-lit glass shed that can switch from transparent to opaque. At times the masculinity is literally dripping off the walls.
Director Rupert Goold ramps up the atmosphere with the occasional appearance inside of a mythical stag-headed beast accompanied by Adam Cork’s thudding soundtrack.
The overall result is an intense but riveting two hours of Nordic Noir.
Menzies puts in a devastatingly powerful performance as we follow his harrowing journey from trusted school teacher to social pariah and suspected paedophile.
One niggle is why Lucas never denies the accusations early on – to either the school or Clara’s parents. I wanted to shout at the stage: “Just tell them what happened!” It’s an annoying plot device beloved of soap operas. But why here?
Other excellent support comes from Michele Austin as the school head Hilde and Poppy Miller and Justin Salinger as Clara’s parents Mikala and Theo. On the opening night Clara was played by Taya Tower, making an impressive stage debut.
Goold lets things become a bit overwrought towards the end. I had trouble working out what was happening during a frantic scene with the townsfolk crammed in the church.
But this is theatre that leaves you stunned and breathless. Definitely one for those who like their Scandi drama on the dark side.
The Hunt is at the Almeida Theatre until 3 August