Adaptations of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel can best be described as a mixed bag – the 2008 Swedish language film received rave reviews, whilst a 2010 American remake, renamed Let Me In, is better left forgotten. Because of this, the National Theatre Scotland version of Let The Right One In comes with a complex set of expectations. Will it be faithfully mysterious and haunting? Or will the same kind of commercial and populist pressures that sank the later film render it toothless? Fortunately, this play is as shocking and eerie as theatre is able to be, whilst also packing an emotional punch that not only excuses the gore, but also provides a profound exploration of alienation and love.
At its heart, this is a coming of age story – Oskar is a bullied teenager who finds opportunities for friendship and escape through a romance with Eli, who has moved next door with an older man. Difficulty arises not only from the increasingly violent bullying of Oskar, but also as it becomes apparent that a recent spate of violent murders has a cause close to home. On top of this familiar-sounding set up, however, is a playful mixing of genres and the interweaving of a folkloric vampire tale.
Writer Jack Thorne has moved the setting from Sweden to the Scottish Highlands – the story of a harassed innocent being freed only by extreme actions must have resonated with a Scottish audience facing September’s referendum – with the forest and snow that fill the stage highlighting the similarities between the two. Both are far away from central London on a spring evening, and this is something that the transformative set makes beautifully clear.
This is also helped by the two leads – Martin Quinn as Oskar and Rebecca Benson as Eli – reprising their roles from the initial Scottish run. Quinn adds a cheeky humour to the painfully awkward Oskar and, although Benson’s combination of fey innocence with a slightly gruff aggression initially grates, this choice eventually makes perfect sense. Eli’s appearance during a fantasy sequence in which Oskar enacts violent revenge on his bullies could lead to a reading of her character as merely the personification of this fantasy. Benson’s physicality and vocal delivery mean that she always seems something more than that, with a sense of insistent, latent power ever present in her performance.
The revenge fantasy sequence is an early example of the excellent choreography and music that is used throughout. Icelandic musician Ólafur Arnalds, whose music has appeared in The Hunger Games and Broadchurch, has provided a techno-tinged soundtrack that used most effectively to back group dance sequences. The most haunting choreography appears in early scenes, where Oskar’s desperation to be powerful enough to overcome his problems is expressed through other cast members shadowing his movements, expressing a feeling familiar to anyone who has ever felt overwhelmed by a problem.
Helpfully, if this overwhelming problem is the sheer number of plays in the West End, Let the Right One In manages to combine elements of an assortment of them: the awkwardly innocent youth of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (which precedes it at the Apollo), the out-of-your-seat horror of The Woman in Black, and even a train scene straight out of The 39 Steps – playing just around the corner. Far from a bricolage, though, Let The Right One In subverts each of these ideas, leaving audience reactions varying between rapt attention, head shakes and gasps that only increase as it reaches its breath-taking finale.
Let The Right One is currently showing at the Apollo Theatre. www.apollotheatrelondon.co.uk