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Let The Right One In – Apollo Theatre

I was sitting in a pub with friends when one of them suddenly announced that news was coming in that the ceiling had collapsed at the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue during a performance of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. A horrible thought then as it is now. But after closing, undergoing stringent investigation and refurbishment, the Apollo is open for business. Judging by the full house at this evening’s performance, people aren’t worried about a repeat of that terrible night.

So there is something bittersweet in that the set designer has chosen to make a feature of the flat ceiling (hiding the renovation works) and painted it to resemble the night sky, as though you were looking up through the barren, leafless trees at the giant full moon which dominates the centre. The best view of this is definitely from the front row of the Grand Circle. It is stark, haunting and beautiful, perfectly complementing the cluster of tree trunks that occupy half of the snowdusted stage.

Based on the 2004 novel of the same title by John Ajvide Lindqvist, Let The Right One In tells the story of Oskar, a teenage boy being bullied at school. When Eli, a girl who is not all she seems, moves in next door, the two outcasts tentatively strike up an awkward friendship. There has been string of murders in the local woods and Oskar slowly discovers the disturbing truth; Eli is centuries old and requires a diet of blood to survive (although she’s uncomfortable with being labelled a vampire). If he pushes her away, she may kill him – if he lets her in, she may still kill him.  It had me absolutely spellbound from beginning to end.

Rebecca Benson creates a very fragile, wounded Eli. It’s never really explained how she came to be like this – just that she has been this way for a very long time. She visibly and vocally weakens as the withdrawl symptoms take hold and when she attacks, it is ferocious, visceral and animalistic – there is something reminiscent of the girl in The Exorcist in her jerky movements.  She abhors the fact that she has to kill to stay alive, but you get the impressions that living victims would be less cooperative about letting someone drink their blood.

The director has very much taken a ‘less is more’ approach to the attacks, in that we are only shown a select few, because horror is not just gore, it is psychological too. There is that satisfyingly tortuous lead up to each attack where, even though you know it’s coming any second now (…ok, any second now…), it still makes you jump out of your skin, then proceeds to be uncompromisingly graphic, violent and bloody.  If you are squeamish, perhaps this isn’t the show for you.

Martin Quinn and Rebecca Benson

Oskar (Martin Quinn) embodies all the embarrassment of puberty and someone who has had so little success in fitting in that he has given up trying. The scenes where he is victimised by the boys at school are deeply unsettling; in some cases, moreso than the attacks.  His guarded nature makes it a little difficult to warm to him straight away, but you could say the same for Eli and the barriers come down slowly as they feel compelled to protect one another.  There is real tenderness in their communication by Morse code when they cannot be together.

The two teenagers are backed up by a strong supporting cast who play a variety of roles and provide some wonderful movement pieces in the transitions between scenes (almost becoming scenes in their own right).  It becomes evident that Hakan (Clive Mendus) is Eli’s protector rather than her father – he may once have been a boy like Oskar who fell in love with her and has helped her ever since, but he has grown old while she remains trapped by youth.  He was not the first and Oskar won’t be the last.  Chilling and thought provoking, I suspect this play is going to trouble my thoughts for a good few days to come.

Let The Right One In is playing until 27th September 2014 at the Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London, W1D 7ES.  Suitable for ages 13 and up.  For tickets and more information, go to http://www.right-one-in.com/

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Events at The Apollo Theatre

It was while I was in the pub last night after a rehearsal that the news came through that the ceiling had collapsed in The Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue during a packed performance of The Curious Incident of The Dog in the Night-Time, with many people injured.  This would be truly terrifying for any theatregoer and my thoughts are with all members of the audience, injured or not.  It is a miracle that no one was killed and I hope it stays that way.  When you go to the theatre, you expect a certain level of safety – especially given the price of a West End ticket.

There has been much speculation over the cause of this and I think it is best to allow investigators to get on with their job of assessing the building before we cast any aspersions.  In the words of Shakespeare “truth will out”.  But I suspect that the owners of ageing buildings (including other West End theatres) will be calling in structural engineers in order to make sure that they are indeed fit for purpose.  I would hope that any theatre that does find structural issues would be brave enough to close its doors for a few weeks to remedy the problem rather than invite a paying public in for 8 shows a week and hope for the best.  It is a tragedy for something like this to happen at all, but it would be nothing short of corporate foolishness if something similar were to happen again in a few days/weeks/months due to penny pinching and/or complacency.  If legislation only requires structural integrity to be checked every so often in buildings of a certain age, then perhaps that legislation needs to be changed – those buildings aren’t getting any younger.

At my theatre we run 9 productions a year for 9 nights each, 9 cinema nights, a festival and a youth theatre show or two; our schedule is tightly packed and has to run like clockwork.  Over the summer we have to close completely in order for routine maintenance to be carried out which involves many things, including electrical testing, taking down the whole lighting rig for cleaning and testing and no doubt lots of other things which I am relatively unaware of (we are lucky enough to have a revolve in the stage, which seems to need some sort of maintenance after every show its used in).  But all these things are necessary in order to keep us legal and keep us safe.  We are routinely asked by members of the public why we don’t hire the theatre out to others “when we’re not using it” – but the honest truth is that we’re always using it.  In order to do things safely and properly, there has to be a level of ‘downtime’ which paying audiences don’t see, during which these vital works are carried out.  And I do wonder how the big West End theatres fit in that downtime when they’re running 8 shows a week for years and years on end in the same building.  I would hope that the weekday daytimes and Sundays are for precisely that.

But praise must go to the Front Of House staff at the Apollo Theatre who, by all accounts, dealt with the situation tremendously.  They would’ve been the first to see the utter devastation and have to attend to people in severe distress while waiting for the emergency services to arrive.  They too will need care and support as they come to terms with last night’s events and I hope that Nimax Theatres will arrange any counselling that may be necessary.  Praise must also go to the other theatres in the vicinity which opened their foyer doors to take care of the walking wounded – it must’ve been quite a shock to their FOH teams too.