DEATH OF A Hunter is not pretty, nor action packed. But if you want to observe a fine actor give a tour de force performance, then this play is for you.
Showing at the Finborough Theatre in London’s Chelsea, Death Of A Hunter is based on the last hour of the life of American icon Ernest Hemingway. It is just before day break on 2 July 1961 and Hemingway, majestically played by
Edmund Dehn, is in his study at home in Ketchum, Idaho while his fourth wife Mary is fast asleep. He is deeply troubled, unable to write and paranoid that his home and phone are being bugged by FBI officials.
He has been accused of tax fraud and the world, it seems, is closing in on him fast. Over the next hour, he reflects, becomes melancholic and has a ‘conversation’ with his late father, a doctor who took his own life at age 57.
Hemingway loved his father Clarence although he looked upon the suicide at the time with great embarrassment, accusing him of cowardice. But now he admits that ‘I am going out the same way as you’.
Hemingway talks of his early working life with first wife Hadley Richardson in Paris, her wearing three sweaters to keep warm even when playing the piano and him wringing the necks of pigeons.
He vents his spleen on psychiatrists and doctors who he blames for the loss of his memory as a result of repeated electric shock treatment. Psychiatry, he says, has no function but to create work for psychiatrists. Disparaging stuff. He is no kinder towards politicians or the FBI.
He also reminisces about his time in Cuba, kissing Castro’s flag and in his youth the gutting of a buck after he shot it, but only after a hyena had finished it off after he had failed to deliver a clean kill.
Of his war experiences, he says only men who fought in war are worthy of respect.
It is powerful fare which Dehn delivers with aplomb. At one stage his fingers hover over his typewriter like a space craft about to land on planet earth. Sadly, they fail to land on any keys. He records snippets of conversation on a tape recorder sitting at his desk (with an animal skin on the back of the chair) and then plays them back immediately. He searches in vain for alcohol.
In terms of watching an individual fall into a pit of despair, it is visceral. He talks to the audience as if he is seeing ghosts.
A remarkable piece of acting from Dehn who incidentally appeared in the Finborough Theatre’s very first production back in 1980.
At one point Hemingway states that you cannot expect to play poker with God and win. He doesn’t, as the theatre plunges at the end into darkness with Hemingway clutching a rifle between his legs and to his mouth.
A dramatic end to a disquieting piece of theatre. A strong play, written by Rolf Hochhuth, translated from the German by Peter Sutton and directed by Anthony Shrubsall.
Among the madness and the despair, Edmund Dehn stands tall. A virtuoso performance.
Death of a Hunter runs until April 17. The performance on Tuesday 10 April at 2.00pm will be performed in German by Torsten Munchow.