Let The Right One In attained a cult status through its passing from John Ajvides Lindqvist’s Swedish novel to a feature length film and American remake, demonstrating the universality and appeal of fusing romantic bildungsroman and unearthly thriller. Jack Thorne‘s streamlined reworking of the script pays lip service to the main elements combining a minimalist, stark aesthetic which compliments Christine Jones’ stripped back set which cleverly mirrors both Scandinavian and Fife forests. With few props or visual distractions, the focus on the central love story between Oskar – a lonely young boy – and Eli – a three hundred year old vampire trapped in the body of a seemingly adolescent girl has a surprisingly warm heart.
After a number of bodies are found in the forest, drained of blood, what begins as a gentle and tentative friendship becomes increasingly sinister, the tension notching upward with each scene. In particular the chemistry between torn and betrayed Eli and her creepy, dying mentor Hakan strikes a delicate balance between genuine heart wrenching human interactions, and the ghost of something otherworldly and sinister. Rebecca Benson’s portrayal of Eli is a particular joy to watch, with her small frame dominating the stage and effortlessly flitting between the social ineptitude of a teenage girl and the menace and experience of an ancient soul. Fused with movement sequences choreographed by Steven Hoggett, the ghosting of the movements of characters offer the performance a strong and hypnotic physicality.
With the impressive performances, and multiple parts explored well by the actors, the play’s heart hinges on human interactions, with Eli and Oskar’s folie a deux relationship of dependency, lust and dysfunctionality striking a surprisingly earthly chord for a play with such a supernatural theme. With so much expressed with simple physicality and the diversity of actors who have thoroughly embodied the text, the question lingers as to whether the heavy technological extras are really required. While the framing of the stage by trees and the one solitary street light offer simple yet very evocative visual metaphors, the climbing frames transformation into a claustrophobic swimming pool during the production’s climactic scene could be accused of complicating a show more focused on delicacy of small gestures. Theatre allows exploration of subtext, and while this production engages with this language successfully, at times it seems dangerously close to getting engulfed by grand set gestures. While the concepts are imaginative and the movement of changes fluid and rhythmic, the ability of the 9 strong cast overwhelmingly offer the play’s most haunting elements effortlessly, and at times are in danger of being swamped by cumbersome set pieces which sometimes seem overly-literal in their search for the symbolism within the seamlessly-handled aesthetic.
Seeing outgoing associate director John Tiffany – he of Black Watch and Once – off on a high note, Let the Right One In is a thoroughly enjoyable performance from beginning to end, the small cast bringing warmth, humor and that all important sense of inevitable peril which keeps the audience on the edge of their seats. Here new audiences are smartly introduced to the chill and thrill of live theatre, of the power of the interplay of two characters in front of us, proving there is life in the genre of Vampire still.