Let The Right One In has just opened at the London Apollo, following successful runs at the Royal Court and National Theatre Scotland, which is good news for vampire fans who are looking for a theatrical fix. After all, while our stages groan with doomed princes, '20s playboys and Mormon missionaries, there are relatively few literal bloodsuckers. And this is a strong adaptation of the book / film / whatever, but it hews close to what made Tomas Alfredson's 2008 film work and so its strengths become, for some, also weaknesses. This gives you much of the same impact but also retreads the same snow and blood into the same ground.
As in John Ajvide Lindqvist's book, bullied young Oscar meets a mysterious girl, Eli, who turns out to have an aversion to sunlight and a thing for blood. The setting - or at least the accents - are Scottish this time, but it's still a slow-burning story about a desperate need for connection as much as it is a horror or a thriller. The book has already been adapted for the screen twice, with Matt Reeves' 2010 Let Me In following the storming Swedish film. Even the US remake was, against all the odds of such things, very strong - but then it too cleaved close to the book's story, and the book is utterly terrific.
Putting the tale onstage, then, is a no-brainer, and this adaptation by Jack Thorne is a clever and a careful one. One snow-covered set provides the backdrop for all the action, with bare birch tree trunks providing a background and a snow-covered climbing frame the only other permanent piece of set. It's a dark and sparse look that manages to reflect much of the feel of the book, stripped to the essentials. A few equally spare elements are added as needed: a sofa, a bed, a row of lockers.
Martin Quinn plays Oskar; he's clearly not 12, but he nails the body language of the uncertain young boy and his lust for vengeance against his bullies, and is often quietly funny in his awkwardness. Rebecca Benson, as Eli, adopts an unsettlingly sing-song delivery that works well to display her alienness but becomes mildly irritating as the show goes on, yet she also communicates the decades of hurt and layers of wariness that smother Eli. The rest of the cast exchange roles nimbly, and they all work hard to hit the emotional beats hard, leaving both Oskar and Eli increasingly isolated from everyone around them and increasingly dependant on one another.
The plot is streamlined somewhat: the alcoholic trio of Lacke, Jocke and Virginia have been lost (Jocke's still vamp-meat, but Lacke's role is taken by a police officer), and Hakan's brief tenure as a vampire has been cut out (as it was in the films, if memory serves). The time period also seems a little compressed; there's no question here of bodies popping up after a long winter under the ice, perhaps because Scottish weather doesn't allow for it in quite the same way as Sweden's climate.
But any extra time gained by losing characters is used instead for interpretive dance. Call me a philistine, but generally speaking if I wanted ballet I'd go to the damn ballet. The dancing does effectively communicate the idea of, say, a search of the woods, and it comes in handy late on, but it also provokes a certain urge to eyeroll that is never desirable. Still, I am fully willing to acknowledge that that is a matter of personal preference rather than serious condemnation.
The biggest problem with this play for fans of either film or book is over-familiarity with the material. I have seen both films and read the book (possibly more than once), and most self-respecting film fans will, I suspect, have seen at least one film already. This adaptation is another fine take on a fine book, but it is not essential for those who already know their Oskar and Eli.
lazarou101 Posted on Wednesday April 9, 2014, 13:45
Finally! I've been quite surprised at the rave reviews. I like the screen version of Let The Right One In, I don't love it like a lot of people do, and for me Rebecca Benson's performance on the stage was brutal. By the second half of the show her line delivery set my teeth on edge to the point where I just wanted to leave. It gets by on the strength of it's solid source material and, frankly, if you want to immerse yourself in this tale there are three far superior ways of doing it.
Mpyrereader Posted on Friday April 11, 2014, 12:24
Thanks for writing about this - I was thinking about going to see it but maybe not now. I remember too much dancing about spoiling Frankenstein.
gumphd Posted on Sunday April 13, 2014, 10:59
Nice to see this review pop up - I was wondering if you'd been to see it, Helen... I agree with most of your points here, although I think Rebecca Benson's voice/line delivery is as divisive as the use of dance... I didn't have a problem with either, in fact the use of physical theatre and dance between scenes combined with that wonderful score helped convey and create the perfect tone for the piece (and, as you hinted, the finale would have pulled the audience completely out of the world that had been created, if we had not already become acclimatised to this interactive style). As for Eli's voice, I thought it was perfect for the character, although I confess that the friend I went with was as similarly frustrated by it as you... I've since recommended it to a few people - and no complaints yet!