February 4, 2015

Guest Blogger: Bill Says "Let the Right One In" is a Bloody Good Vampire Story

A note from Jan: Scary stuff spooks me. A lot. As in, not able to sleep for nights and so as much as I wanted to see the new John Tiffany-Stephen Hoggett show about vampires, I just couldn't work up my nerve to do it. Luckily, my intrepid theatergoing buddy Bill is made of sterner stuff. He went and generously agreed to share his thoughts below about the show:
The dozens of birch trees that rise from the floor of Christine Jones’s winter-forest stage set are so tall that their crowns are out of sight. They make for a beautiful, chilly sight. A chilling one too. The police have warned the locals, we quickly learn, not to stop there—on this nor on any other snowy evening. People are being murdered. And not just murdered but mutilated.

Such is the set-up for Jack Thorne's suspense drama Let the Right One Inwhich comes from the National Theatre of Scotland and is playing through March 8 at Brooklyn's adventurous St. Ann's Warehouse. 

Based on the 2004 novel and 2008 film, both of the same name, both by the Swedish John Ajvide Lindqvist, the meaning of the title is never made explicit. But does it need to be? Let the Right One In is a vampire story. And vampires, as we all know (don’t we?) can't come in unless they're invited.

The full house with which I saw this thriller last week certainly wasn't put off by the prospect of spending an evening with a vampire. Perhaps, in fact, that was its appeal, the very reason the overwhelmingly young and younger audience was there. After all, vampire stories—whether movies, TV shows or books—have been quite the rage for some time now.

An even more compelling draw for me was the team responsible for the production of the play: Director John Tiffany and Associate Director (also in charge of "movement," as his billing reads) Steven Hoggett. Tiffany and Hoggett are a multi-award-winning pair (Broadway's Tony-winning Once and last season's revival of The Glass Menagerie) whose work I first became acquainted with in another National Theatre of Scotland production, presented at St. Ann's a few years ago: Black Watch, about the Scottish regiment of that name and their service in Iraq. That one was so mesmerizing and moving that I saw it twice.

If Let the Right One In isn't quite in that league, it more than satisfies. Elegantly staged and beautifully acted by a cast of nine (some of them doubling), at bottom it's the simple story of two misfits who meet and come to find solace in one another: Oskar, a teenage boy, and Eli, a peculiar young girl—at least that's what she first seems to be. 

Oskar (Christian Ortega, winningly nerdy), who lives alone with his mother because his parents have split up, is an awkward loner whose jock schoolmates bully him mercilessly. Venturing into the dangerous woods even after being warned not to, he encounters the very odd Eli (Rebecca Benson, brashly appealing), who is looked after by the much older Hakan (Cliff Burnett), who is… well, it's hard to know just who Hakan is. (You can read a brief Q&A with Benson here).

Following some cautious verbal fencing, Oskar and Eli slowly form a bond, which holds and strengthens even after Eli asks Oskar if he would still care for her if she turned out not to be a girl. Which of course she isn't.

While Oskar and Eli are bonding, the maimings and murders continue to occur, mostly offstage (a vampire needs her blood, of course). Throughout, Tiffany and Hoggett steadily build a sense of dread, Hoggett through the use of mysterious, stylized movement, employed mostly between scenes. (Tiffany talks about his approach here).

Because the atmosphere is otherwise so low-key, when mayhem actually does break out in full view of the audience, it's particularly effective. As is the ominous score of Olafur Arnalds, who provides a piercing "Psycho" shower-scene accompaniment for the production's single most shriek-inducing moment. Even though Let the Right One In isn’t especially original, nor even probing, it makes for a bloody-well intense experience.

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