The Little Vampire
If you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise. Only it may not be the kind of surprise you hoped for. People have been turning up dead, their throats slit and their bodies drained of blood. For somewhere in the forest a monster lies, searching for blood, or a kiss, to satisfy its hunger. In “Let The Right One In”, based on the novel and screenplay by John Ajvide Lindqvist, coming of age is given a dark twist in this modern day fairytale. The third Abbey Theatre screen-to-stage adaptation this year, “Let The Right One In” takes Lindqvist’s bittersweet vampire tale and gives it a little twist of its own. Cranking up the cuteness to balance out the blood spatter, “Let The Right One In” shifts much of the focus away from the bitter and on to the sweet, in a funny, touching, and visually stunning production.
Adapted for the stage by Jack Thorne, “Let The Right One In” tells of Eli and Oskar, each living in their lonely, frozen landscapes. Set during Reagan’s 1980s, Oskar is an innocent abroad, high school bully fodder with an alcoholic mother, a disinterested father, and a life that’s a living hell. He escapes into puzzles and power fantasies, played out in the icy solitude of the monkey bars in the yard of his apartment block. Until the night he meets the mysterious Eli, a small girl with some very big secrets. Eli’s just moved in next door with the equally mysterious Hakan, a quiet man who might be her father, her protector, or even her lover. As Oskar and Eli’s relationship blossoms, for Oskar it’s a many splendored thing, for Eli it’s a little more complicated. Especially as bodies are piling up all around them. In the midst of the frost and blood, can affection grow between these two lost souls seeking a connection, or will all be lost in that desolate, harrowing landscape?
With Thorne’s adaptation remaining faithful to much of Lindqvist’s screenplay, direction by John Tiffany shows a strong, cinematic sensibility. Scenes frequently switch from short, sweeping snippets to more sustained close-ups, especially of the star-crossed couple. Movement by Steven Hoggett offsets this cinematic sensibility somewhat, with some curious dance sequences, and heavily choreographed attack sequences, grounding the action firmly to the stage. Throughout, Hoggett choreographically suggests the power of Eli’s attacks, which often have far more impact the shorter and snappier they are.
When it comes to design “Let The Right One In” is next level stunning. Designer Christine Jones, with a design team of lighting designer Chahine Yavroyan, and special effects designer Jeremy Chernwick, craft such a mesmerizing, visual experience, your breath practically freezes just looking at the frozen, wooded, blood drenched landscape. A landscape through which a range of objects, from monkey bars to boxes, beds to benches, flow with choreographic ease, evoking the wider world beyond, and within, the woods.
Indeed, “Let The Right One In” often relies more on its visual representation than on Thorne’s script, which often takes a little longer than needed, and losses some of its impact by lingering in places it might well have done without. Did it really need to visit Oskar’s Dad? Yet “Let The Right One In” also relies heavily on some sublimely haunting, and often melancholic music, by Broadchurch composer Ólafur Arnalds, and an evocative sound design by Gareth Fry. With Tiffany often directing in big, broad, fast moving strokes, it’s often left to Arnalds’ score to establish subtlety, mood and context. Which it does incredibly well. Even if it pushes the emotional buttons big time, it also adds much needed depth and texture. For Thorne's secondary characterisations are often stock type stereotypes, portrayed in several scenes as pantomime villains, gormless good guys or run of the mill parents. Indeed, it would be interesting to see how well some scenes would fair without Arnalds' swelling score to support and inform them.
All of which impacts directly on performances, which a top class cast negotiate beautifully. Richard Clements as Oskar’s disinterested Dad, Gavin Fullam as bad boy Jimmy, Jamie Hallahan as the bully Johnny, Tommy Harris as the conflicted Mickey, along with Bob Kelly as a detective and P.E. instructor, and Ruth McGill as Oskar’s Mum, all do a first rate job, with most doubling up as ensemble players. Nick Dunning as Hakan, by far the most complex and mysterious character on stage, is wonderfully engaging, even if he is sometimes poorly served by Thorne’s adaptation. Craig Connolly as the childlike, love struck Oskar is lovably outstanding. His innocence and cuteness offset by a wonderful Katie Honan as the feral, jolting Eli, her voice and eyes hinting at the darkness and secrets of the centuries, her expression and smiles the surprise of a young girl experiencing the first flush of friendship and love. While individually strong, together Connolly and Honan exude an irresistible chemistry as the young couple fashioned in hell desperately looking for a heaven. The gravitational centre around which all else revolves, Connolly and Honan prove to be incredibly impressive, carrying the focus and weight of “Let The Right One In” on their youthful shoulders like seasoned veterans.
Owing more to Disney than Dostoyevsky, “Let The Right One In” is the theatrical equivalent of the big budget, holiday blockbuster. A production that would not look out of place on Broadway or the West End. Delivering entertainment with a capital E, “Let The Right One In” has all the right gags in all the right places, enough love and danger to keep you intrigued, a haunting soundtrack designed to push all your emotional buttons, and a seasonally visual look that’s to die for. Some might argue that blockbuster productions have no place on the stage of a National Theatre. A point many others would vehemently disagree with. Whatever your position, “Let The Right One In” offers a visually stunning, wonderfully entertaining experience, with enough blood and cuteness to cater to everyone’s tastes. Indeed, even if you're one of those who might want to hate it, there’s a very good chance you’re probably going to love it.
“Let The Right One In” by John Ajvide Lindqvist, adapted for the stage by Jack Thorne, directed by John Tiffany, produced by the National Theatre of Scotland by arrangement with Marla Rubin Productions Ltd and Bill Kenwright in association with The Abbey Theatre, runs at The Abbey Theatre until January 6th 2018
For more information, visit The Abbey Theatre