LET THE RIGHT ONE IN Stage Adaptation Prompts Real-Life Thrills At London's Royal Court
Let The Right One In (Swedish: Låt Drätte Komma In) is a 2004 vampire fiction novel by Swedish writer John Ajvide Lindqvist. The story has spawned a Swedish film, a Hollywood remake, and now a West End play.
I was among a packed house to see the £10 preview of Royal Court's new adaptation of Let the Right One In (or Let Me In to those only familiar with the USA film). I was extremely curious to see how theatre makers would handle a story containing so many physical and supernatural elements, and which has already received two very lauded film treatments.
The foremost concern with most plays is the design. Entering the 380 seat main house of the Royal Court Theatre, auspiciously situated next to the Sloane Square station in the affluent Chelsea district of London, we are greeted by a stage made to look like a snowy woodland, framing a cast-iron transformer/jungle gym. It's a reminiscent setting to the courtyard where we expect young Oskar to meet his immortal paramour, Eli. Christine Jones' set design is ethereal and simple.
The adaptation by Jack Thorne effectively condenses a personal yet deceptively epic story into a brisk 130 minutes including interval. I've seen both film versions and I had some questions about how certain physical stunts might be handled. I wasn't disappointed; in fact, I found some of the solutions employed by this production to be even more validating in the sense that we weren't watching CG effects, but real physical movement, the dynamism of which distinguishes this art work from its static screen counterparts. My research found that both screenplay and novel were employed as sources, and I will say that some of the theatrical mis-en-scene could have strayed even farther from the film versions, and I will discuss this later.
Back to the physicality of the play: Director John Tiffany has employed some dance elements to effect mood and ease transitions between scenes locations. When Oskar is playing at training to defend himself with a knife, he is joined by his fellow teens on stage in a stylized sort of kata routine. The entire play is underscored with music by Olafur Arnalds, in fact I can't remember a moment which wasn't underscored. This technique aids the director in effecting a tone, but it is one aspect where I felt the play became too filmic.
Given that the trees and snow were a permanent part of the set design, interior settings became problematic. There is something ephemeral about a bed being wheeled in and out by actors, but the device always appears slightly cheap and reminiscent of University theatre. Given that this production is bound for the West End, thanks to its already sold-out limited run at the Royal Court, one yearns for a better transitional device. I would have enjoyed more dance in the transitions, or perhaps a better way of concealing the outside when performing an interior scene, so I'm not conscious of snow on the floor of the bedroom or sweet shoppe.
The acting in the production is impeccable. It was an intriguing choice to use substitute Scottish accents for Swedish. I understand this production is co-presented by the National Theatre of Scotland, so it may be one of those cases were practicality became the most effective direction. In any case, dialects in no way detract from an excellent ensemble acting performance by a very skilled and balanced cast.
The cast of just nine actors double up their roles and succeed in generating the feeling of a much bigger, very real community. Obviously the standouts in the cast are its leads. Martin Quinn as Oskar succeeds in evolving from a dorky, easily bullied nerd into a more confident romantic lead. His charm and earnestness, and a deliciously quirky way of delivering youthful dialogue draws us in to the moral centre of the play.
Rebecca Benson as Eli, the young girl vampire, employs a very measured speech pattern, which suggests an innocence and sheltered-ness at odds with her modern surroundings (this production is set in the year 1983). At no point do we make the mistake of believing she's human, but we recognize the human qualities within. At just 4'10", she climbs and swings around the set like a skilled gymnast. When Eli goes into vampire mode, we see her lurch around in a movement style reminiscent of Sadako/Samara from The Ring movies.
I couldn't do a review of Let the Right One In without touching on its most famous scene, and most tense moment of the play. I sat for the entire play, questioning in the back of my mind how the "pool scene" would be handled. Suffice to say that I was not disappointed. Without giving too much away, I will assure fans of the story that the pool does appear, and that Oskar finds himself submerged in water. That is, Quinn actually holds his breath underwater for three minutes at the climactic moment of the play! This feat of endurance far surpasses whatever trials may have been encountered in the making of either film, and this actor is doing this upwards of eight times a week! So don't ever say theatre acting is for wimps!
In conclusion, I completely enjoyed this adaptation, apart from some small aesthetic issues which are merely stylistic and practical decisions well within the artists' right. The whole company have my congratulations and I hope, after a long West End run, our friends in NYC may get to see a Broadway or Off-Broadway transfer of this very deserving production.
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