Let the Right One In
Writer: Jack Thorne
Director: Alexander Berlage
October 12 – November 30, 2022
As John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel Let the Right One In was a bestseller, was made into a moving film in 2008 and finally successfully revamped for the stage by Jack Thorne, it obviously speaks to contemporary times. However, while the narrative features characters of popular interest, a young vampire, a socially isolated young boy, a serial killer, and school-ground bullies, as well as a liberal measure of close-up brutality, it is the appealing age-old story of lovers frustrated by circumstance that wins our hearts.
A tongue-in-cheek attitude is established as the play opens with two conventions of the horror genre: loud pounding music and a dark blur in a door’s glowing panel. We expect, as we almost get, a nasty scene of bloodletting – note the plastic curtain – the well-prepared killer brings anaesthetic on a trolley and seems more concerned with practical procedure than in brutality. We later learn, via a televised police announcement, that there have been several murders and no one is to go “into the woods”. Strange given that the cold square outside the apartment block in Oslo, where we first meet Oskar and eventually Eli, seems far from any woods.
Awkward Oskar (a winning performance by Will McDonald) seeks refuge in the Square from the small flat in which he lives with his mum (Monica Sayers). Increasingly resistant to his mother’s appeals, but still innocently eyeing sweets with childlike wonder, Oskar is an outsider at school and unable to defend himself from mean boys. In the Square he meets new neighbour Eli (a beautifully nuanced performance by the trans-feminine Sebrina Thornton-Walker) and despite their charmingly gauche connection, Eli tells him they can’t be friends.
Friends they become. She is puzzling to Oskar as she doesn’t feel the cold and has a wet dog smell, and he a puzzle to Eli as he lacks her certainty and independence – but they come to share an affirming intimacy.
Yet things are not as they seem. Hakon (Stephen Anderton) who appears to be Eli’s dad at first, turns out to be a later version of Humbert Humbert, a serial killer foraging blood to feed young vampire Eli. Ultimately, Oskar must be told and if eventually he can come to terms with her “otherness” society cannot, and Eli is forced to take an action that will separate her forever from Oskar.
Strangely, while we see Eli deceive and attack a kindly stranger and suck the lifeblood from a policeman it by no means affects our feelings for her. It may be because we appreciate the reference to Thornton-Walker’s recent transformation, but it is more likely that we pity Eli’s sadness, bound to a compulsiveness that is not of her choosing and her loss of spontaneous joy in a world that is old, and which the actor so poignantly portrays.
The escalating bullying perpetrated by Jonny (Eddie Orton) and Micke (Callan Colley) –convincing escapees from a Tarantino film – are leavened by the element of pastiche. Responsible adults are too obviously stereotypes – and the teacher who is looking away, the mother who drinks, the absent gay father are woven into a bizarre and absurdist tapestry. By contrast, it is Hakon who emerges as heroic in his protection of Eli and Eli, in turn, is heartily endorsed by the audience when she reappears as guardian vampire of the tortured Oskar.
The play has some very funny dialogue, mostly generated by the naivety of Oskar, and comical scenes such as Eli’s casual production of a Faberge egg from her sleeping casket. The zany mixture of violence, comedy and tender love comes to a very satisfying close with Oskar hugging the casket holding Eli and the tap-tap-tap of their love messages in code.