Theatre Review – “Let The Right One In” (Royal Court Theatre, London)

Based on the novel and film script by John Ajvide Lindqvist, “Let The Right One In” follows the story of Oskar, a bullied teenager who lives with his mother, and Eli, a young girl who is at first resistant to friendship with Oskar which changes to a devoted friendship and love.  This blossoming friendship has one major problem – Eli isn’t all that she seems and she’s been a teenager for a long time.

My first experience of this story was through the Hammer company’s interpretation of the source material in the 2010 film “Let Me In” starring Chloe Grace Moretz and Kodi Smit McPhee in the roles of “Abby” and “Owen”, so I was fascinated as to whether a stage version would work.  My answer to this is an emphatic “YES!!!”

This version goes back to the original source material by John Ajvide Lindqvist as opposed to the English language version, but don’t worry if you’ve seen “Let Me In” rather than “Let The Right One In” as the differences are minimal.

The stage set up is beautifully realised as it sells the story’s winter setting with bare trees and a “Jungle Gym” with a covering snow doubling up as climbing frames, forests, the courtyard of Oskar and Eli’s housing complex, a gymnasium and the swimming pool which forms the play’s shocking climax, with scenes involving locations including Oskar and Eli’s houses, the local sweetshop and the school locker room being represented by movable furniture.

As with the cinematic interpretations, this play uses Oskar and Eli’s friendship as the main touchstone for the story’s narrative, but the play also prominently features the effects of Jonny’s bullying upon Oskar and the relationship between Oskar and his mother and Eli and Hakan, which I admit could be more uncomfortable to view than the cinematic counterpart.

The performances by the two leads perfectly compliment each other.  Martin Quinn portrays Oskar’s shyness, isolation and fear with a degree of sympathy which I, as somebody who was bullied at school, could empathise with and it’s easy to see why he could gravitate to a character like Eli who is equally an outsider.  Rebecca Benson combines the innocent side of Eli who sees fascination in Rubik’s cubes and childhood play with ferocity and animalistic side of Eli’s “vampiric” nature with smooth balletic movements portraying the character’s angelic side which changes to short, sharp, jabby movements emphasising the character when she goes into a feeding frenzy.

The two main supporting cast members are Susan Vidler in the role of Oskar’s mum and Ewan Stewart in the role of Hakan.  Both characters have darker aspects of their nature with Oskar’s mother being over-protective and smothering, bordering on an inappropriate relationship with her son, whilst Hakan behaves like a spurned lover for reasons that become apparent as the play progresses.

Additional support comes in the form of Graeme Dalling and Cristian Ortega who are viciously convincing in the roles of Jonny and Micke, Oskar’s tormentors, and Paul Thomas Hickey, Stephen McCole and Angus Miller who all portray various roles within the play.

An additional “character” in the play is the stock music which serves as the soundtrack for the piece.  This music is provided by Olafur Arnands who has recently sprung into the public consciousness in the UK for his soundtrack for the ITV television series “Broadchurch”.  As with the actors, the choice of music balances the tender love story element between Oskar and Eli alongside the viciousness of the treatment that meted out on Oskar along with Eli’s animalistic tendencies.

For material that has received acclaim in print and cinematic media, this theatrical version is a worthy compliment to what has come before it.  The play is on limited season at the Royal Court and finishes on 21st December.  There is talk of the play eventually transferring to London’s West End and I would heartily recommend it to people who are horror fans or who want to see a love story with a darker edge should this transfer eventuate.

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