Adapting a cult classic is a risky business. John Ajvide Lindqvist’s beloved 2004 novel Let the Right One In has been translated to the screen twice, the Swedish-language film of 2008 and the US remake of 2010, before it was adapted for the stage by Marla Rubin and Jack Thorne (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) for the Scottish National Theatre. Taking a story rooted in the snowy landscape of suburban Sweden and resituating it in Australia seems a brave choice. Yet Claire Watson has performed something of a coup for her directorial debut with Black Swan Theatre.
12-year-old Oskar is relentlessly bullied and fantasises about taking violent revenge against his tormenters. The adults in his life seem unable or unwilling to intervene, leaving Oskar an outcast even in the soulless apartment block in which he lives. When Eli, seemingly a similar-aged young girl, moves into the apartment next door, the two strike up an unlikely relationship while the town becomes gripped by a spate of unexplained murders.
Bruce McKinven’s inspired three-storey set operates almost as an additional character, a heavy threatening presence that reinforces the sense of oppression and desperation felt by the characters. Watson is inventive in her use of the varying levels of the set, resulting in a production that is cinematic in scope. Constantly resituating Oskar’s home within different levels added to the sense of dislocation, the audience sharing in Oskar’s fractured world. The violent climax takes full advantage of the height afforded by the set, resulting in the production’s most visceral and horrifying image – no spoilers here! Scene changes are achieved through the simple sliding open of new spaces, maintaining the pace and tension so essential to the horror genre. Projections of birch trees and falling snow cleverly added to the claustrophobic atmosphere. While snow might be virtually unknown here in the west, the snowfall acts as metaphor for Oskar’s emotional state. One small gripe: the window frames of each apartment were situated at face height when characters were seating, frequently obscuring the characters from where we were sitting.
Rachael Dease’s haunting soundscapes are – as always – beautiful and evocative. Her original compositions enhance the production’s visuals effectively, adding to its otherworldliness. The choice of pop songs inserted at several points, however, seemed jarring and at times too literal.
The real star of the show has to be Sophia Forrest, whose physicality and intensity as Eli results in a nuanced character that carefully straddles the line between her childish and vampiric natures. Her desperation for human contact is achingly apparent, but the audience is reminded of her monstrousness in her unnerving, animalistic movements. Ian Michael maintains consistency as the innocent Oskar, but I felt his characterisation is pitched too young for a twelve-year-old, which adds troubling undertones to the burgeoning relationship between him and Eli. Rory O’Keeffe and Clarence Ryan play the bullies with confidence, and Thorne’s script provides context that ensures these are not one-dimensional characters, but victims of their own circumstances. Similarly, Alison Van Reeken brought pathos as Oskar’s mother, struggling with her own loneliness.
Casting three Aboriginal actors in the production adds a weighty resonance for Australian audiences. The story of bullying and disconnection is made even more unsettling by the ghosts of colonialism that, although not directly referenced within the play, haunt the production. In the context of the recent same-sex marriage ‘debate’, the acknowledgement of Eli’s ambiguous gender was also timely for local audiences. However, the narrative closure of Eli’s gender as female seems to undermine the novel’s more nuanced gender politics regarding the right to love whom one chooses. Further complicating the nature of the character’s relationship is the confronting questions of paedophilia, echoed throughout the relationships between Hakan and Eli, Oskar and his mother and – ultimately – Eli and Oskar.
This is no ordinary love story, as a vampire and boy find commonality as outcasts in a cold world. Black Swan’s production is deliciously unsettling, even if the projections of spurting blood veer dangerously close to the schlock of the B Grade horror flick. Cinematic, moving and engaging, Let the Right One In is an impressive and unsettling exploration of the relationships of our time.
Photo credits: Daniel J Grant
Presented by arrangement with Marla Rubin Productions Ltd.
DIRECTOR: Clare Watson
SET & COSTUME DESIGNER: Bruce McKinven
LIGHTING DESIGNER: Richard Vabre
COMPOSER/SOUND DESIGNER: Rachael Dease
AV DESIGNER: Michael Carmody
CAST: Sophia Forrest, Stuart Halusz, Ian Michael, Rory O’Keeffe, Clarence Ryan, Maitland Schnaars, Steve Turner, Alison van Reeken
Tickets available through Ticketek.com.au |Ticketek Outlets|Ph 1300 795 012
WARNING: Some adult themes, horror, SUITABILITY: Ages Fearless 15+