There are films that feel as if they could jump off the screen and on to the stage. Swedish cult horror Let The Right One In is not one of those films. But that is why John Tiffany has an Olivier Award sitting on his mantelpiece and I do not.
Where I would see theatrical roadblocks or physical impossibilities, Tiffany and Associate Director Steven Hoggett have seen challenges. And, as the results showed when the show opened last night at the Royal Court, they have clearly revelled in them, embracing the story’s many brutal and thrilling elements with vivid and emotionally charged results.
Those who have read John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel – which, at a hefty 480 pages, is condensed here to a mere two hours – or watched the two subsequent film adaptations will be well aware of the complicated elements that the creative team and playwright Jack Thorne have taken on, with vampires and murder taking centre stage.
Telling the story of bullied schoolboy Oskar, it is a story of finding love and companionship in unusual places, of a girl named Eli who doesn’t need to wear shoes in the snow and whose stomach roars like a tiger when she needs to feed. And the discovery of what it is exactly she needs to feed on.
While the image of an actor hanging upside down from a tree on the Royal Court stage or the sinister funnel designed to catch every drop of blood from his body may be hard to erase from your memory, Tiffany and Thorne have ensured that it is visceral fear rather than the continual threat of violence that radiates throughout. Scenes of Oskar being tormented at school may be punctuated by Eli chasing her prey, but it is more often the moments of emotional cruelty that make you want to squeeze your eyes shut than splattering blood.
Martin Quinn conveys every inch of humiliation and cruelty Oskar experiences in an affecting performance. Amidst the otherworldly events and Christine Jones’ fairytale isolated wood set, carpeted by a thick layer of snowy white feathers, Quinn’s light take on the character keeps us firmly placed in reality with his down to earth, awkward teenage wit throwing a protective blanket of warmth over Rebecca Benson’s Eli.
While Quinn may hold his body like an ungainly teenager still growing into his adult body, Benson’s Eli has had untold years to come accustomed to her tiny, childlike frame. Whether she is threading herself through the climbing frame or tearing someone to shreds, Benson is effortlessly animalistic. But while her movement may never quite be human, her face and softly spoken voice bears an innocence not equated to her horrific actions.
Horror is a rare genre on stage, but this production proves it can be done with stunning and chilling effects. Even apart from the blood there is plenty to be disturbed by here, from Eli’s charged relationship with the man she calls her father to Oskar’s alcoholic mother who crawls into bed with him on lonely nights. More importantly, however, in the hands of Tiffany and his regular collaborator Hoggett the two hours are filled with moments of theatrical genius and beauty. Moving from peaceful to enraged, romantic to savage, in often a split, scream-pierced second, Tiffany’s triumph is unsettling to the very last.