“Would you still like me if I turned out to not be a girl?”
Adapted by Jack Thorne from John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel and its two subsequent film versions, Let The Right One In could be said to fall into the teen vampire genre that has proved so enduringly popular of late, but that would do a huge disservice to all concerned, not least with this National Theatre of Scotland and Royal Court co-production. As two youngsters neglected by society cling onto each other to avoid falling through the cracks in a snow-swept Swedish town where a serial killer appears to be on the loose, they discover that one is not quite like the other…
Directed by John Tiffany with long-time associate Steven Hoggett by his side, the show produces moment after moment of elegiac beauty interspersed with the harsh brutality of real life which intrudes like jagged breaths of wintry air. Hoggett’s unmistakeable physical language is sparingly but beautifully deployed, the strangeness of situation enhanced through movement and Ólafur Arnalds’ score swoops with plangent intensity, underscoring many of the show’s most powerful sequences. Accompanied by Gareth Fry’s evocative sound design, the production constantly teeters on an anticipatory edge, toying with the film’s horror origins but converting it to a more fitting level of suspense for the stage.
Tiffany admirably maintains this level throughout in Christine Jones’ bleak forest set, sparing us none of the details, whether the fear of drowning, the horrific hiss of acid, the visceral gushes of blood or slightly less gorily, the authentically Swedish collection of confectionery on offer. And the young teenagers at the heart of the tale, Rebecca Benson’s Eli captures perfectly the otherworldly intonations of someone isolated from the world and as Martin Quinn’s Oskar has all the schoolboy naïveté of somebody equally cloistered, but equally ready to make that emotional connection.
And as it comes, as it develops, it is gorgeously done – their first hug, the first dance, the tentative steps towards establishing the parameters of their relationship, the hesitations in being completely honest with each other. Set against the difficulties in their interactions with the rest of the world – Oskar’s borderline alcoholic mother vividly played by Susan Vidler, Ewan Stewart bringing haunting life to the inscrutable Hakan whose role in Eli’s life is unbearably ambiguous – it’s an unconventional but moving love story. Winter may be coming but all is not lost.