Having spent the past five years making (and critiquing) theatre, I’ve found myself hardening to the standard forms and techniques of the craft. Be it textually, visually, or mentally, my brain autopilots on the dissection and analysis of a show, despite a production’s best efforts to capture my emotional response, often taking both inspiration and offense from a show, at least creatively. It is rare, therefore, that I find myself in this theatrical coma that is currently occupying my mind.
The last show to affect my brain in this way was early last year, at the Trafalgar Studios during their Trafalgar Transformed season. Jamie Lloyd has, for several years now, been high on my top Directors to aspire to list, and his dystopian staging of ‘Macbeth’ was easily the most breath-taking production of The Scottish play (or any Shakespeare for that matter) that I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing. Taking it back several years, Michael Strassen’s production of ‘The Fix’ at The Union Theatre was equally awe-inspiring. With powerful imagery and slick physicality, Strassen’s shows consistently combine beautiful aesthetics with gut-wrenching vulnerability.
This week, I was lucky enough to experience something entirely new.
The Swedish cult classic, ‘Let The Right One In’ (adapted for stage by Jack Thorne), has been transformed into a compelling and exhilarating performance. Beautifully staged, with exhilarating physicality, Director John Tiffany transports his audience into an emotional limbo, unable to respond coherently to the brutal love story strewn, bloodstained, before us. With real trees stretching high into the lighting rig, and a heavy snow frosting covering the stage, even the air-conditioned atmosphere of the auditorium kept up appearances in this chilling performance.
Haunting. Breath-taking. A soul-crushing portrayal of adolescence and existential anxiety, complete with murder, paedophilia, and vampires.
The weightlessness of the cast’s physicality, accompanied by a heavy, echoing soundtrack creates a visceral image that questions everything you think you know about the human body and it’s limits. Rebecca Benson’s performance as ‘Eli’ is alone enough of a reason to see this show. Her haunting vocal work and exquisite physicality manage to bounce between horrifying and helpless; her staccato twitching screams and writhes like an exorcism gone painfully wrong, whilst her flawless fluidity creates a terrifying ability to glide across the stage and scale the trees without second thought. It is, however, the glint in her eye that was the most exceptional aspect of Benson’s performance, both menace and dead at the same time, she captures the true essence of the Eli’s vulnerability; trapped, a victim within the ruthless killing machine of her predatory nature. Equally, in his professional debut, Martin Quinn carries the only warmth of the show, just as ‘Oskar’ carries the weight of the world in his naïve shoulders, encompassing the ever-optimistic nature of a troubled child who just hopes to find the good in the world. And in the pool scene, well, I won’t spoil it, but I was equally as breathless.
New to this story, I was unprepared for the brutality of truth behind every idea it poses. Of humanity, of childhood, of morality and trust. It, and in particular this production, manages to suck the life out of your every idea of love, and then rip out your soul for good measure, before offering the simplest and most beautiful of ideas: love doesn’t care. Raising questions of sexuality (“What if I’m not in love with a girl?”), gender (“Would you love me if I wasn’t a girl?”), and identity (“I’m [just] Eli.”), we find ourselves in a hopeful place as the final sequence ends. Although it proves difficult not to taste the bittersweet foreshadowing of the previous two hours, and only hope that life won’t simply repeat for Oskar and Eli.
The tranquillity of the set, the beauty of the movement, the innovative staging and stunning, horrifying death sequences. From hanging, to blood work, to drowning, to free falling, with each scene I found myself convinced that I had seen it all. And John Tiffany’s production just kept raising the level of theatre. I’d never sat unable to comprehend the beauty of the show I’d just seen; attempting to fight back the tears streaming down my face, as audience left around me; struggling to find the right way to express the feelings taking over my brain and limbs before seeing this show. It’s worked its way into my twisty brain and taken route amongst the theatre making cogs, taken on a whirlwind of words and images and mind twinges inside my head and gut. My own ramblings no longer make sense to my own brain, and no doubt don’t do the haunting of this show the justice it deserves. Do yourself a favour, and book a ticket now.
‘Let The Right One In’ is the most breath-taking, awe-inspiring, gut-wrenching, soul-destroying piece of theatre I have ever seen. And I can’t wait to try and make a show anywhere near as beautiful.
Let The Right One In. The Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London.