I’ve never been a big fan of vampires. The Twilight books bored me, and the movies even more so. And while I enjoyed the book “Let the Right One In,” I was skeptical as to how it would translate to the stage – the violence, the special effects and the intimate, quietly expressed emotions of the pre-teen protagonists.
I was surprised by the impact the play had one me. (It seems wrong to say “pleasantly” surprised, as it is a story that contains a great deal of violent deaths.) But this production, brought to St. Ann’s Warehouse from the National Theater of Scotland and featuring remarkable performances by its young leads, Cristian Ortega and Rebecca Benson, is an astounding feat of staging and performance – as well as a bittersweet love story.
Adapted by Jack Thorne from a novel and screenplay by the John Ajvide Lindqvist, and directed by John Tiffany and Steven Hoggett, the play follows Oskar (Ortega), a social paraiah, an outcast constantly bullied by his classmates. His mother is an alcoholic (Susan Vidler), and his father is absent. When he meets Eli, a young girl lurking in the apartment complex’s common space, he is instantly drawn to her. Eli is not your typical pre-teen: Her social skills are lacking, as is her hygeine. But she and Oskar begin a tentative, sweet friendship and the few moments we see him experiencing happiness with her is surprisingly moving.
There’s just one catch: Eli is a vampire. And she’s responsible for the violent deaths that have been plaguing Oskar’s neighborhood.
The minimal sets (by Christine Jones, as well as costumes) depict the bleak isolation of the frozen community, as well as the loneliness Oskar feels as he attempts to survive the horrors of high school. The quartet of classmates who bully him nonstop are brutal, and, when Eli steps in to aid Oskar, one can hardly blame her.
I was skeptical as to how these scenes of brutal violence would play onstage, but I was not disappointed. Skillfully combining effects of lighting and sound, as well as the symbolic physical movement he is known for, Tiffany has managed to depict the primal rage of Eli – I can’t say beautifully – effectively.
There are so many horrors explored in Let the Right One In, as well as questions of morality and emotion, that I left the theatre with my head spinning. What’s scarier: The horrors perpetuated by the undead or the horrors we are subject to by the living?