I guess people turn famous films into plays because of name recognition and thinking they will be a magnet for audiences and therefore make back their investment. That should work for the transfer of Let the Right One In to the West End from the Royal Court Theatre. Originally staged by the National Theatre of Scotland, we seem to be in the snowy north of Scotland because of the Scottish accents used by the cast; but maybe the Scottish accents are meant to parallel northern Swedish accents since the woody setting and the names of the characters and most of the artefacts on stage certainly seem Swedish. I’m betting we’re in Sweden and that the accents are translated to Scottish ones for the UK audiences as an equivalent to what you would hear in the snowy woods of Sweden.
Certainly if you want an “entertaining” night out and to see some live theatre as part of the treat, if you want to attend a show that is clever, exciting, a bit chilling, somewhat touching and very well-staged and that will also be surprisingly gripping, you can place your safe bet (and it’s a considerable amount for a ticket these days) on Let the Right One In at the now refurbished Apollo Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue in London. (The ceiling that fell down has been fixed –temporarily!)
The original Swedish film has some claim to being cinematic art; and everyone by now knows that the strange girl who moves in next door is a vampire. But the story has a kind of role-reversal Hunchback of Notre Dame quality to it – one feels for the loneliness of Eli, the girl vampire, strongly and enigmatically played by Rebecca Benson, and poor lonely Oskar, her Esmeralda figure, a fine debut role in the West End from Martin Quinn. For me this is less a Gothic horror Vampire tale than a folk story or fairy tale in the Brothers Grimm tradition. The direction of the play is very strong and praiseworthy and the staging of the essentially filmic tale is extremely gripping and clever. The set designed by Christine Jones is evocative, functional and very attractive.
My praise goes as well to all the cast, especially Gavin Kean, Susan Vidler and Graeme Dalling. My problem is simply that ultimately I think it is fairly superficial stuff, actually.
But it does work, there are some surprises; the story keeps you interested throughout; and the scene of bullying at the swimming pool near the end is cleverly staged. Though I think it does work better as a film (or a novel, come to that), there is something quite enjoyable about seeing how what is essentially a filmic tale has been reworked for the live stage. And you can probably read more into it than I do if you are in the mood.
You won’t be disappointed if you go to the play; but buying the Swedish DVD is a lot cheaper and easier. As with so many of these adaptations, I am hard put to see what the adaptation achieves as a statement or experience that you don’t already get in the film beyond the pleasure of seeing how to make it work live, in front of you.
But a lot of praise must go to John Tiffany, who does manage to create a staging that works in its own terms and to convey the sadness as well as the folk tale weirdness of the cult novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist while making it recognizably and – given the thread about bullying, poverty and drinking – recognizably contemporary in the setting and the telling.