Review: Let the Right One In @ Dundee Rep

2013-06-04 11.02.30It was a treat to see this production of the National Theatre of Scotland here at Dundee Rep. I loved the film Let the Right One In (less so the American remake, predictably) but this was an intriguing idea for adaptation and the press preview I attended had whetted my appetite for the experience. Director John Tiffany and associate director Steven Hoggett have worked together before to great acclaim, but this is a particularly wondrous production, truly a vision in action.

A lot of that is due to set and costume designer, Christine Jones. The utter simplicity of the set (white birches, locally sourced) underlies the complexity of action built on its flexibility, such as when the drop leaf table in the flat becomes the horse in the gymnasium. With the barest few props space is nonetheless clearly delineated, even when it overlaps. The trees loom, silent sentinels who impassively observe, sometimes offering comfort, sometimes menace.

Chahine Yavroyan’s lighting design is just brilliant, too. The feeling of unease permeates all the action, the feeling that there’s something just beyond what you can see. Your heart races each time some one steps into the light. The lighting helps delineate space as well, as when Oskar sits in the ‘sandbox’ indicated only by the square of white light.

The cast as a whole are superb; they have a lot of challenges and a very stylised interaction. When we were comparing notes at the interval, Mark commented on the power of the physicality. There are moments of ballet where the boys mimic Oskar’s jabs with a knife or dance with the trees (which sounds naff but is really poetic). While there are veterans like Ewan Stewart who plays Hakån, Paul Thomas Hickey and Chris Reilly, who moved seamlessly between a variety of roles, much of the cast was young with various levels of experience. Lorraine M. McIntosh, who may be more familiar locally from musical stages, brought a brittle neediness to the role of Oskar’s mum. The trio of young men who opposed Oskar, Angus Miller, Cristian Ortega and Stuart Ryan, all worked subtlety into what could be unsympathetic roles.

The two young leads were riveting. This is Martin Quinn’s professional stage debut and he had to anchor the entire performance, and managed it superbly. He played much younger than his age believably, making Oskar — as Mark put it — ‘just this side of gormless.’ It was a delicate balance between being a victim and a would-be knight, falling for Eli and trying to believe the best of the bullies. The interactions with McIntosh as his mother were particularly poignant. There’s a ballet they do together that’s just mesmerising.

2013-06-04 11.25.52Rebecca Benson embodies all the strangeness and change that Eli requires in her various states of hunger. There’s a moment where she stares intently into the audience that’s so unsettling I shiver a little even now. Benson shows the sparkle that drew Hakån and then Oskar to her, yet she also easily transforms into the monstrous thing you know she has to be. Her movement is brilliantly choreographed — uncanny is the only word for it.

The creators have emphasised this is a love story rather than horror, though there is a terrific feeling of unease and anxiety throughout, a really good jump and horrible tension during the pool scene. Jack Thorne’s adaptation of John Ajvide Linquivst’s novel and film has stripped away even more than the screenplay did, but the story retains its subtlety (unlike the American film) and its underlying sense of yearning and melancholy. Behind the love that buds between Eli and Oskar is the longing and loss of Oskar’s mother and of Hakån. This production deals deftly with the issue of inappropriate sexuality: Eli may look twelve, but she’s not. We may be culturally primed to disdain Oskar’s mother’s clingy neediness, but it’s hard not to feel keenly Hakån’s breaking heart. The emotional richness of the story resonates.

This is an amazing production and if you have any chance of getting to Dundee in the next two weeks, I suggest you do it. If you think you don’t like theatre, or don’t care about vampires or don’t find horror appealing, go anyway. You won’t be disappointed. I gushed after the preview that this production will be legendary — having seen it, I can assure you it is. I will treasure it.

A Sneak Peek at ‘Let the Right One In’

Dundee Rep & the National Theatre of Scotland
June 5-29, 2013
2013-06-04 11.03.54I was lucky enough to attend a press preview for National Theatre of Scotland‘s production of Let the Right One In at Dundee Rep. Here’s to forward thinking folks who realise what engaging with the creative community as well as trad media outlets can lead to (thanks, Eve Nicol in particular for inviting me via Twitter). But that’s nothing new for NToS: they’ve also engaged with the LTROI fan community, “We, The Infected” and built a location-based iPhone app, Other, which guides you through Dundee “uncovering hidden stories and buried secrets by finding locations and solving puzzles.”

2013-06-04 11.24.39The challenges of bringing this strange love story to the stage were myriad, both technical and creative. The set evokes both inside and outside at once; this is a practical concern, but it has an almost Lynchian otherworldliness, too, that fits the narrative well. The silver birches were locally sourced but immediately suggest Scandinavia. They were also a bit of a problem at first with the cast reporting a lot of splinters.

Indoor intrudes on outdoor: it’s odd to see the sofa that indicated Oskar and his mother’s apartment settled in the woods with a floor lamp lighting the woods as well as their home. Director John Tiffany spoke of how the community’s relationship to the forest begins to change as killings happen there and how the choreography of the boys attempts to reflect this. The set is amazing in its simple effectiveness.

Of course the real heart of the production is the actors. We had a chance to chat with a few of them: Lorraine M. McIntosh, who plays Oskar’s mum, Angus Miller, a native Dundonian who plays three of the male parts and Martin Quinn who plays Oskar. McIntosh has a number of credits both on stage and screen, and sings with Deacon Blue and as half of McIntoshRoss. Miller and Quinn are making their professional stage debuts, though both well seasoned in youth theatre.

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Miller, Quinn and McIntosh

They all spoke of the importance of making the emotional connections first. McIntosh mentioned the generous support of NToS in making possible a six week rehearsal schedule, which allowed them to get the relationships right before trying to work out the technical aspects of the play, which are many (including a swimming pool on stage). Miller enjoyed explaining the need for blood noseplugs and Quinn pointed out that McIntosh was the only one who didn’t end up with blood on her. “Just gin,” she quipped.

It’s not your usual theatre night out, and they’re all hoping the posters draw in a new audience. The two young men both said, “My mates don’t usually come to theatre events, but –” the lure of vampires and a popular film adaptation makes a lot of people curious. The scenes they ran for us showed both the emotion connections forged and the supernatural suspense that is bound to make this a success.

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You’ll want to see this if you can: it will be legendary. Many of the fan community who can’t actually get to Scotland are funding seats for young people to go; the fans get a programme and ticket stub while a kid who might not have gone otherwise gets a chance to enjoy the local arts.

National Theatre of Scotland website

[Writer Wednesday will return next week.]