BWW Review: LET THE RIGHT ONE IN a Frightening, Captivating Good Time
Full disclosure: I'm a big fan of Let the Right One In. Tomas Alfredson's 2008 film, based on a book by John Ajvide Lindqvist, is a moody, breathtaking (and breath-bating) coming-of-age story with a vampiric twist. It's a Reagan-era tale of isolation and loneliness, and an intriguing mix of honest brutality and tenderness that quickly became one of my favorite films and left me anxiously awaiting my pre-ordered copy of Let the Old Dreams Die for just a glimpse of what became of main characters Oskar and Eli.
So, with the National Theatre of Scotland's production of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN coming to town, I approached with trepidation. How would that quiet, atmospheric film translate onto the stage?
The answer, it turns out, is damn well. Jack Thorne's LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is damn close to a perfect play.
But let's back up for a second. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN centers around prepubescent Oskar, a lonely kid, tormented by bullies, with an alcoholic mother and absentee father. The woods near Oskar's apartment complex have been the scene of some grisly murders, men strung up by their feet and bled, and those murders coincide with the arrival of Oskar's new next-door neighbors, Eli and Hakan (a man Oskar believes to be Eli's father).
To Oskar, Eli is an odd girl - strange smelling, shoeless and coatless in the winter - when they meet in their building's courtyard, but they soon begin to bond. The show follows their budding relationship, and the threats to that relationship.
Director John Tiffany does an excellent job with Oskar and Eli's delicate relationship, with a strong assist from leads Cristian Ortega and Lucy Mangan. Ortega is painfully awkward and endlessly sympathetic as Oskar and Mangan's Eli is as intriguing and confounding to the audience as Eli is to Oskar. Eli is direct, stilted and coy, yet as desperate as Oskar to make a connection, survival for both depending on it.
Ortega and Mangan are well supported by the "adults" - Jo Freer, David Mara, Stephen McCole and Ewan Stewart - and the "kids." Graeme Dalling (Jonny) and Andrew Fraser (Micke) really avoid being one-note bullies, and it's probably why I was sick to my stomach for Oskar every time they walked on stage. By the time Angus Miller entered as Jonny's brother Jimmy, my heart just lived in my stomach.
The impressive work of Chahine Yavroyan (Lighting Design), Ólafur Arnalds (Music) and Gareth Fry (Sound Design), throughout the show but especially in the second act, should be lauded, as should the work of Christine Jones (Set and Costume Design) and Jeremy Chernick (Special Effects Design). The creation of the "pool" and "train" is inventive and surprising, as was the climactic, industrial-sounding showdown at the end. Also, promotional materials make much of TheaterMania's claim that this show "contains one of the single scariest moments ever seen on stage," and you know what? They're right, and that's owed a lot to these guys.
The only issue I really have with the show is the "interpretive dance" choreography, particularly in the first act. At best, it's unnecessary; at worst, it's distracting.
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is truly captivating, a unique entry into vampire lore that has made an indelible mark in literature, film, and now stage. So, don't miss it while it's at Alley - unlike a certain somebody, it won't be around forever.
Photo credit: Lawrence Peart
P.S. To the man sitting in front of me, who felt compelled to lean over to his companion and whisper, loudly, "She's a vampire," fifteen minutes in and proceeded to explain vampire lore for the next hour and a half - again, loudly - thanks for interrupting our enjoyment of the show with your totes obvious observations. I'm sure your date appreciated it, too.
Next time, save it for intermission.