Royal Court Theatre, until December 21
Performance date: Saturday 7 December matinee
Let the Right One In, John Ajvide Lindqvist’s instant classic 2004 novel has already spawned Swedish and American horror film versions, and now the National Theatre of Scotland has taken a stab at translating this gory yet tender love story to the stage. Martin Quinn plays Oskar, a young wool-hatted adolescent who is bullied relentlessly by his classmates. His single parent mother is not much help, she relies too much on the bottle to get her through, with their unhealthy relationship exemplified in an awkward bedroom snuggling scene which goes on way too long.
Oskar meets Eli (Rebecca Benson), a strange, smelly newcomer to the apartment block, who has a historic turn of phrase and a neat way with both Rubix cubes and the disposal of cops. Tapping out morse code messages on their adjoining walls and meeting in the cold playground, Oskar and Eli become more and more involved, even after Eli warns her new friend that she isn’t a girl, and shows that she may just like the taste of blood…
Performances are good, with Benson particularly scary when in attack mode. The show will probably win this year’s Theatreland prize for best use of strawberry syrup blood, and has atmospheric music (a wonderful score by Icelandic composer Olafur Arnaulds) and strobe lighting to emphasise horror scenes. The show emphasises physicality – which sometimes works. There are some strange choreographed cast dancing-movement pieces, which are mostly unnecessary, although the playground part of the set is appropriately and acrobatically utilised. The set is generally fantastic – the stage is forested with Scandi-trees, plastic-bag snow sprinkles down and covers the ground. Scene changes are achieved through simple additions or removals of benches and lockers, a trunk, a bed. However, the clever, low-budget use of the stage is undercut somewhat by the violent final scene, involving a high-tech tank to simulate a swimming pool. It’s impressive, but must have swallowed much of the budget.
The stage translation of this nuanced story focuses on the relationship between Oskar and Eli, and the pervasive brutality of teenage bullying. In this distillation, Oskar is not as thoroughly let down by parents and teachers, or the system generally, as he appeared to be in the original book and film. It makes Oskar’s reliance on Eli appear to be more of a childish, “let’s run away together” gambol, rather than the more adult, wise choice it is in the original. While the storyline is still subversive, especially where it faces head-on the creepy, paedophilic relationship between Eli and Hakan (Ewan Stewart), somehow the streamlining means the story lacks the emotional logic of the original. The book’s exploration of letting the right one in – to your heart – falls away.
Let the Right One In is a good attempt at showcasing Lindqvist’s tale in another form, but cannot take the place of the original or the film versions. Nevertheless, the run is almost sold out and will bring a young crowd to the Royal Court Theatre.