Pros: The stage design.
Cons: Flat script and performance.
Death of a Hunter recreates the last hour in the life of one of America’s greatest writers, Ernest Hemingway. In this solo show written by German playwright Rolf Hochhuth – and starring Edmund Dehn as the iconic novelist – we play witness to the author’s delirium before he shoots himself in his home in Ketchum, Idaho.
There’s nothing which indicates that the play hasn’t been thoroughly researched. James R Mellow and Michael Reynolds, both renowned Hemingway biographers, documented the writer’s physical and mental deterioration during his final years, in addition to his increased paranoia and erratic behaviour.
Nonetheless the script feels somehow flat and lacks the passion one would expect from such an interesting figure in his dying hour. The contrast between ailing, flawed Hemingway and Nobel prize winning Hemingway is not adequately structured. Quite the opposite; the image which sticks in our minds is that of a pathetic and delusional writer, nullifying the prime of his life and career.
Efforts to recreate Hemingway’s patchy memory and unstable behaviour are also problematic as they prevent the audience from focusing on specific themes. Although we observe snippets from different moments in his life (his marriages and sons, the death of his father, his work as a foreign correspondent, his inability to write in the last years, etc.) none of them are fully developed. They are instead presented as the confused recollections of a sick old man.
In the play we see a delusional Hemingway obsess over the idea that the FBI and CIA are spying on him. During restless ramblings around his studio he is constantly telling us how his phone has been bugged and how they want to get him for tax fraud. Funnily enough there’s evidence that Hemingway’s activities were under actual surveillance by the FBI after his political loyalties (he was a staunch supporter of Fidel Castro) came to light in the late 1950s. However, an audience unaware of this fact might miss the association between Hemingway’s paranoia and the actual disappointment of a man who despite having done so much for his country, was nonetheless under suspicion.
Edmund Dehn’s physical resemblance to Ernest Hemingway is truly remarkable and adds a certain degree of authenticity to the play. Nonetheless, and as with the script, it doesn’t awaken great feelings or emotions. One would expect that seeing one of the greatest writers of all time in so much emotional pain and anxiety, which ultimately lead him to his suicide, would arouse compassion and tears. In my case, and I suspect in others among the audience too, it left me a bit cold. The extracts from Hemingway’s tape recordings, which are played a few times during the play, are dull and flat.
I think the best aspect of the production is the stage design. Seated along both sides of the set, it gives us a vivid impression of seeing a restless beast in a cage trying to escape, which is ultimately what Hemingway does.
Author: Rolf Hochhuth
Director: Anthony Shrubsall
Producer: Sarah Lawrie
Booking Until: 17 April 2018
Box Office: 01223 357 851
Booking Link: https://www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk/productions/2018/death-of-a-hunter.php?spektrix_bounce=true