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.
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/