The stage adaptation of Let the Right One is a re-imagining of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Swedish horror novel and film, adapted and reworked for the theatre by Jack Thorne. It arrives in London’s West End following a sell out run at the Royal Court last year.
This stage adaptation is a co-production between the National Theatre of Scotland and the Royal Court and, whilst the storyline remains true to the Swedish novel and the film, the action is relocated to the Scottish Highlands.
The play is described as “a chilling tale of loneliness, love and legend”, and I thought this stage adaptation was an excellent re-imagining and re-telling of a story already familiar to me through the two film adaptations I have seen.
Small light touches make a big difference. Five or ten minutes before the play starts, selected characters walk across the stage, wrapped up warm against the cold of the Scottish winter, interacting with the snow, the set and, as time goes on, each other. This brings the set, the setting and the environment fully to life because it is not just a backdrop, it is a real landscape, populated by real people, each with their own story to tell.
Oskar is a lonely teenage boy from a broken home, living with his mother. He is constantly bullied at school, feels very isolated and longs for friendship. The Scottish village where he lives is in shock as there has been a recent spate of brutal murders in the woods nearby. Everyone is living in fear and Oskar is no longer allowed out into the woods to play.
Oskar meets his new neighbour Eli, a young teenage girl living with her father, at the local playground. They start to talk, share stories and gradually become good friends. But Eli and her father share a dark secret, and the play explores this mystery, and what this means.
The story is told from Oskar’s viewpoint. We are in his footsteps from the very outset and we see the world through his eyes. When he is bullied at school and called “Piggy”, we feel his pain. We understand his frustration at being mollycoddled by his Mum. We feel his elation at finding a soulmate who he can talk to. We see his happiness when he is with Eli and the fun they have together. And, along with Oskar, we experience the joy and pain of first love.
The enigma, right at the heart of Let the Right One In, is Eli. Who and what is Eli, and what does this mean for Oskar and Eli’s growing relationship? Eli says she is not a boy and not a girl, “I’m just me”. She is otherworldly and harbours a dark secret. As the play progresses, we realize what Eli is, and the play powerfully conveys the pain and the heartbreak of being “Other”. As someone who is both different and special, a character with physical and emotional strength, who ultimately saves the day, I found Eli an empowering character.
The young actors were all very strong, and the two leads, Martin Quinn as Oskar and Rebecca Benson as Eli, were exceptional.
The set and the staging were simple and effective, incredibly powerful and very clever. I liked the fact that the set was real, including real trees on stage and a solid and robust climbing frame.
I thought it would be nigh on impossible to recreate the climactic swimming pool scene onstage but this production delivered that scene in a truly ingenious way (I don’t want to give away any spoilers and the scene has to be seen to be believed!).
Although this adaptation is suitable for, and directly marketed at, teenagers and young people, it does not shy away from the darker elements of the novel – the blood, the killings and the horror. The production is very explicit in showing exactly who and what Eli is and what this entails. The end result is a deeply disturbing and chilling piece of theatre.
Why I think this particular story is so powerful is that ultimately it is about human beings and their need and search for friendship and love, a universal theme that everyone can relate to. Oskar and Eli’s love story takes place in today’s modern world, which can be friendless, lonely and isolating for many people. Let the Right One In is a story of two people, both misfits and outcasts for different reasons, finding each other, learning about each other, and falling in love. Will Love win through in the end? Go along and find out!
Let the Right One In plays at the Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London until 27 September 2014.