Let the Right One In at the Royal Court
The scene is set with silver birch trees, spaced across the stage in Northern grey light; snow is underfoot. On a single bed in the semi-darkness a teenage boy and girl lie together. Oskar is asking Eli to be his girlfriend in an awkward gauche rush of hormones and nerves, but she replies – “I’m nothing. Not a child. Not old. Not a boy. Not a girl. Nothing.”
To watch Let the Right One In, adapted for the stage by Jack Thorne from John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Swedish novel of 2004, is to enter a bleak world of loneliness and androgyny, of families without nurture and suburbia without protection. Oskar is fiercely bullied by schoolmates; living with his mother, who cradles him and a bottle of wine suffocatingly close, she slips into bed with him to satisfy her own cravings for comfort and company. Eli, the not-quite-girl-next-door, lives with Hakan, and befriends Oskar in the woods one night. What follows is a touching tale of kindred spirits and first love.
The magnetic pull of loneliness is realised poetically in this production in the grouped trees, moments of choreography and violent bouts of bullying on the Scottish council estate. That Oskar, a troubled teenage boy, is drawn to Eli, the centuries-old vampire in a girl’s body, is movingly compelling, displaying Thorne’s nuanced writing of adolescence.
In expertly handled scenes of confrontation and bloody violence Eli feeds and Oskar is bullied, until ultimately Eli protects Oskar in the only way she knows how. As the play unravels, the darker shades become darker. We begin to question Hakan’s relationship with Eli: is he her guardian, her father, or her lover who has grown old whilst she stays young? The intimations that this fate prefigures Oskar’s own is brought to fruit in a final scene that is chilling in its simplicity.
John Tiffany’s production, from the National Theatre of Scotland, is intensely physical. With balletic choreography from Frantic Assembly’s Steven Hoggett and ethereal electronic music from Icelandic Ólafur Arnalds, the production is captivating and immersive. Rebecca Benson’s Eli is agile and transformative, her voice otherworldy. Martin Quinn as Oskar is remarkable: funny, but also perfectly capturing a boy on the brink between immaturity and adulthood.
Let the Right One In is at the Royal Court Theatre until 21st December 2013. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.