LET THE RIGHT ONE IN
Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Sunday 28th January, 2018
John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel is the most Stephen King-like book I’ve read that isn’t by Stephen King. The film version that followed is a masterpiece in understatement and now this stage adaptation by Jack Thorne streamlines the story even further. Several characters and scenes are completely excised, allowing the central relationship to come to the fore.
Director Liz Plumpton gets the tone exactly right, from the stilted naturalism of the dialogue to the shocking moments of violence. In fact, horror aside, this is a very subtle production. A snow-laden setting is suggested as walk-ons toss handfuls of snowflakes over their heads in an establishing montage; costumes (by Pat Brown and Vera Dean) hint at Scandinavia with its sweaters and bobble hats; and the lighting by James Booth adds a wintry chill to the multi-purpose set (also by Booth) that combines starkly striped tree trunks with interiors: a locker room, a bedroom… with a window… Kevin Middleton’s sound design gives us the impression of the world beyond the set: a swimming lesson, hospital noises, and so on.
There are lots of scenes, some of them quite short, but Plumpton engages us from the off and, as the story unfolds, thrills and touches us in equal measure.
Niall Higgins’s Oskar has ‘victim’ all over him. The kids in the story are played a bit older than they appear in the original and so Oskar comes across as perhaps being on ‘the spectrum’. Bullied and alone, prone to shoplifting sweets and unable to communicate with his separated parents, Oskar is a sympathetic fellow. Simon King is terrifyingly efficient as the murderous Hakan. Deronie Pettifer makes an impression as his mother, who drinks; and there are strong appearances by Mike Baughan as the police chief investigating a series of murders in the locality, and by Oliver King and Elliot Mitchell as the bullies.
But the piece works as well as it does chiefly due to a captivating performance by Molly Packer as the beguiling Eli, an ancient being in a young girl’s body. Packer is truly excellent, balancing moments of unhuman-ness with childlike fun. Her violence is as credible as it is merciless. Eli’s relationship with Oskar humanises her while it gives him backbone and independence. It’s not just a vampire love story, it’s about real-life monsters and loneliness and resilience. It’s also the sweetest horror story going.
A fantastic start to 2018 at the Crescent, this production gets everything right.