A dark and visceral coming-of-age vampire love story is how you could best describe Jack Thorne’s excellent stage adaptation of Let the Right One In (Royal Court Theatre), based on the novel and film by John Ajvide Lindqvist and performed by the National Theatre of Scotland.
The main character is Oscar, a bullied lonely teenage boy living with his mother on a housing estate at the edge of town, In the depths of winter he seems particularly vulnerable – and a series of brutal killings have thrown the whole neighbourhood into anxious shock.
When Oskar meets his new neighbour Eli, he falls under her spell and is struck by her poise and agility. She doesn’t go to school and never leaves the flat by day. Sensing in each other a kindred spirit, the two become devoted friends. What Oskar does not at first realise is that Eli has been a teenager fro a very long time…
Although John Tiffany’s production is technically assured and excuisitely staged, balancing humour and horror and poignancy and mysticism in equal measure, it doesn’t have the sheer haunting power of the film. But the play skilfully builds up the tension and a sense of unease and the climax in a swimming pool where Eli saves Oskar’s life from the bullies and exacts a chilling, long overdue punishment on them, had me on the edge of my seat.
The bleak design by Christine Jones of a snowy forest with bare tree trunks and evocative mix of purity and danger in Olafur Arnold’s score create just the right atmosphere for the drama which unfolds.
Martin Quinn, making his professional debut, conveys Oskar’s gawky uncertainty, and Rebecca Benson is simply mesmerising as the ageless enigmatic Eli, whose balletic movements create an air of dark magic. Strong support is provided by among others Ewan Stewart, sad and elusive, as Hakan, Eli’s “father” who will stop at nothing, not even murder, for the sake of his “daughter”. Further praise is given to Jeremy Chernick for some remarkable special effects.
This then is an absorbing, though-provoking play, which brings the vampire myth into a class of its own.
Let the Right One In
The Royal Court Theatre, London, until Saturday 21 December 2013