This adaptation of Olga Tokarczuk’s bleak and chilling story brings to the stage a savage presentation of the facts as Janina Duszejko, the narrator of the story sees them. She is an old woman living in a tiny remote village in Poland, obsessed with animal welfare and hating the hunters that kill in the forest, by day she is a teacher of English at a local school who translates the poetry of William Blake.
The play explores the juxtaposition between pursuing a belief to so far out of its rational sphere that it is unhinged, even though the holder of the view considers themselves totally sane and by default others on the opposing side become insane. She refuses to call the villagers by their given names, instead using detrimental descriptions Oddball, Big Foot, Dizzy and Black Coat. Big Foot is the first villager to die choking on a deer bone during dinner. Janina is exhilarated by this – the hunted has indirectly killed the hunter, what a piece of vengeance and justice for all animals.
One by one other villagers die in peculiar circumstances, Janina in all seriousness informs the police that it is the animals perpetrating these crimes, and why not – are they not continuously hounded to their deaths for, to her, senseless reasons, their hides for clothing, meat and worse of all just sport. Naturally, the ending to this dark tale is not what you expect.
Complicite’s production is stunning in its simplicity and fiercely compelling to watch by courtesy of the carefully casted company. Kathryn Hunter as Janina is superb and shows the very soul of the old woman whose frail and ailing exterior masks such toughness and independent spirit. Her telling of the story at once both witty and melancholy never misses a beat, and leads you to question your own views on relationships between humans, and theirs with animals and the planet.
I really enjoyed this production, it’s starkly different, and for all its dark subject matter manages to be lively, entertaining and thought-provoking. One not to be missed I think.
Bristol Old Vic, King Street, Bristol, BS4 2HG