Let The Right One In

Without theatre, cinema would be nothing at all – so in my view it’s always important to be thankful for theatre and its legacy. Before the invention of film and television, books and theatre were the only comparable means of storytelling entertainment; and these had worked well for thousands of years. Nowadays, if a play is successful it is often adapted into film. However, the other way around – theatre adaptations of films – is less common.

In 2004, Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist wrote a remarkable coming-of-age story that deals with fatherlessness, alcoholism, school bullying, paedophilia, child transgenderism…and vampires*.

The book was a bestseller and 4 years later a film was made. Let the Right One In, directed by Thomas Alfredsen in 2008, was so well-made and so popular that within two years, Matt Reeves had directed a 1:1 Hollywood remake.

Surprisingly, the remake was also well-received and won fans such as Stephen King. A year later, in 2010, the stage adaptation premiered in Sweden, and in 2013 it was also adapted by the National Theatre of Scotland. Let the Right One In opened at the Apollo Theatre, London, in March 2014. Having heard plenty of positive reviews, I was keen to see how it worked on stage.

The interesting thing about the Swedish film is that it is both minimalist and still very powerful and visual – characteristics which I thought would be difficult to translate onto the stage. Firstly, the stage design was very well done. The great thing about theatre is that it provides so many different ways to portray place and emotion. In this case most of the background (an ethereal forest of silver birch trees) stayed static while parts of the set at the front changed in subtle ways to represent different locations, which were emphasised by lighting while everything else remained darker.

An interesting aspect of the show was the visual representation of emotions through the medium of dance and performance art. One character’s loneliness might be portrayed by several other members of the supporting cast dancing in the background; often mimicking the movements of the character in focus. I can’t say that performance art is normally my cup of tea, but it was still a very interesting approach and something entirely different to what you might expect.

Alongside this focus on fluidity and movement and the clever production/set design, the music played a great part in the overall effect. Most scenes were accompanied by loud, synthesised music, which set the tone and ethereal, mystifying atmosphere perfectly. The play definitely felt more like an adaption of the film rather than the book, on the basis that it omits the same passages and events from the book that were also missing in the films. Without revealing too much, something crucial about Eli’s (the vampire’s) past is explicitly explained in the book, whereas it is only hinted at in both the film and play. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: the play is very entertaining and feels like a re-imagined remake in a new garment.

Despite the fact that the actors speak with Scottish accents, location-wise the play is still set in Sweden (although this is never really mentioned) and the characters have their original names, which are clearly Scandinavian. The acting is really great, especially by the two playing Oscar and Eli. Before watching the show, the most challenging and questionable part for me was how they would re-enact the final, dramatic scene of the film and, again, I don’t want to give anything away but it is very well visualised and a terrifyingly impressive staged representation of the scene.

Pleasingly, the play, like the film, is not afraid to get down and gory, something that’s unusual for theatre. The play is gory, beautiful, very entertaining and surprisingly cinematic (if this is possible), thanks to great design, awesome music and top-class acting. Fans of the book and films should be happy with the adaptation; and fans of dark and unusual theatre should like it as well. The play is showing at London’s Apollo Theatre until September 2014 and I would thoroughly recommend checking it out. It will bring the house down (hopefully not literally – but we all know the Apollo does have form).

*This was, of course, in the days before vampires sparkled, when they were still actually scary.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.