Monday, 9 December 2013

Theatre review: Let The Right One In

A teenage vampire love storyNO WAIT, COME BACK! IT'S NOT WHAT YOU THINK! Having read John Ajvide Lindqvist's novel and seen the first of the two film adaptations, Let The Right One In feels very familiar to me but it seems not everyone has even heard of it, so may need reassuring that absolutely nothing sparkles. Except maybe some blood in the snow. Instead this is a bleakly Scandinavian but strangely romantic coming-of-age story that takes in vicious bullying, blurred gender identity and an undercurrent of paedophilia. Basically standard Christmas fare for the Royal Court, where Jack Thorne's adaptation comes following its premiere earlier this year for the National Theatre of Scotland. And though the original 1980s Swedish setting remains (with an authenticity that goes all the way to chocolate bars called Plopp) the accents are all Scottish in John Tiffany's atmospheric production.

Oskar (Martin Quinn) is regularly beaten up at school, while his divorced parents seem baffled as to how to raise him. With a serial killer on the loose in the woods near his small town, he's told to stay close to home, which is where he meets his new neighbour Eli (Rebecca Benson.) The otherworldly young girl lives next door to him, but even as they start to communicate in secret by tapping Morse code on the wall between them, there's things about herself Eli struggles to tell him.


Designer Christine Jones has used the snow-covered woods where the story begins to set all the action in; it helps create an eerie feel of perpetual Scandinavian dusk that suits the melancholy story. Men being hung upside-down on stage is definitely starting to qualify as a bona fide 2013 meme, and that's how we open, Eli's human protector Hakan (Ewan Stewart) making a botched attempt to procure blood for the girl he's besotted with. Stewart as the middle-aged man in love with a girl much older than she looks strikes a balance between creepy and sympathetic that typifies the story and the production.


But it's the two young leads who have the responsibility of carrying the emotional core of the play, and Quinn and Benson do so admirably, backed up by a dedicated cast building the world around them with performances that occasionally break into stylised movement that had one of the people I saw it with identify it as John Tiffany's work within moments of the start. For me these attempts to build atmosphere, along with some of Ólafur Arnalds' filmic music (Thorne has said he took inspiration from the original book and both movie adaptations) had mixed success in the first act, sometimes creating a dreamlike feel but others simply interrupting the narrative.


The second act though is more or less flawless: Absorbing, eerie, gory and atmospheric. The snowy woodland set would seem to make the story's dénouement at a public swimming baths impossible to stage, but Jones and Tiffany have found a way, and created a chilling finale with it. The transfer to the Royal Court is co-produced by Bill Kenwright who has ambitions to bring it to the West End next; it'll be interesting to see how that pans out, as this really is an excellent show that's cleverly reached out to teenagers in its publicity, and which provides them with a number of well-employed theatrical techniques to present its story - but may be a bit too unusual for the mainstream.

Let The Right One In by Jack Thorne, based on the novel and film by John Ajvide Lindqvist, is booking until the 21st of December at the Royal Court's Jerwood Theatre Downstairs.

Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes including interval.

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