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The Perils of Love on London's West End: A Look at Let the Right One In, Skylight, Medea, and Shakespeare in Love

Hearts are broken and rarely restored on the stages throughout Theatreland.

Love gone wrong seems to be the pervading theme of the dramas this summer on London's West End. It's almost hard to watch so many hearts get broken on so many consecutive evenings. But fortunately for us, it's not our tickers, just the ones within the characters on stage. In fact, the surplus of great work being performed throughout Theatreland is incredibly heartening for us show-goers. And there really is something for everyone, from the lovers to the bloodthirsty.

Martin Quinn as Oskar and Rebecca Benson as Eli in John Tiffany's stage production of John Ajvide Lindqvist's Let the Right One In at the Apollo Theatre.
(© Manuel Harlan)

Vampires have never really found their footing on Broadway, but that could all change with Let the Right One In, perhaps the best theater piece about these bloodsuckers ever created. Inspired by the Swedish novel and film penned by John Ajvide Lindqvist, the drama, adapted for the stage by playwright Jack Thorne, explores the relationship between bullied high-schooler Oskar (Martin Quinn, exemplary in his professional stage debut) and his new neighbor Eli (Rebecca Benson), a similarly aged young woman harboring the secret that she needs the blood of humans to survive. On a wintry set by Spring Awakening designer Christine Jones (creepily lit by Chaine Yavroyan), the intense production, directed by John Tiffany (Once) and associate-directed by Steven Hoggett (Tiffany's frequent movement designer) is unforgettable. This is thanks to a handful of some of the most truly terrifying moments ever seen on stage (one of which involves [SPOILER ALERT] a near-drowning in a live swimming pool, but that's not the scariest part). It's hard to delicately shift between "tender" and "terror," but the directors and their cast manage to, in spades. This production at the Apollo Theatre proves how the Tiffany-Hoggett collaboration is perhaps the most indispensable since that of Stephen Sondheim and Hal Prince.

Bill Nighy as Tom and Carey Mulligan as Kyra in Stephen Daldry's production of David Hare's Skylight at Wyndham's Theatre.
(© John Haynes)

What's even better than watching the product of a director and choreographer firing on all cylinders? Watching a pair of actors do the same. Such is the case with Carey Mulligan and Bill Nighy in Stephen Daldry's ultra-compelling revival of David Hare's Skylight at Wyndham's Theatre. In the potent drama, Mulligan (an Oscar nominee for the film An Education) and Nighy (of Love Actually fame) play Kyra and Tom, a pair of ex-lovers whose relationship ended years earlier when the significantly older Tom's wife discovers their affair. A year after his spouse's death, the wealthy restaurateur Tom unexpectedly shows up on the doorstep of public-school teacher Kyra's shabby flat, clearly in the hopes of a reconciliation — but their opposing ideologies stand in the way. With enough sparks to set the world on fire, Mulligan and Nighy (joined by Matthew Beard as Tom's wayward son) deliver laser-sharp, intelligent performances that propel Daldry's staging from simply "electric" to "edge-of-your-seat thriller." Bob Crowley's shape-shifting apartment complex of a set, Natasha Katz's unobtrusive lighting, and Paul Arditti's soundscape expertly define the interior and exterior worlds of the characters, crafting apt parallels to the play itself.

A scene from the National Theatre's production of Medea, directed by Carrie Cracknell.
(© Richard Hubert Smith)

The worlds aren't as well-defined in Carrie Cracknell's uneven revival of Euripides' Medea at the National Theatre. Unlike her heart-stopping and straightforward revival of A Doll's House (seen earlier this year at BAM ), this is a modern-dress Medea for the 21st century that gets trapped within a series of conflicting styles. An uneven translation by Ben Power utilizes both contemporary colloquialisms and archaic vocabulary choices ("What hath you done?" is but one example). Tom Scutt's multi-level set combines a war-torn apartment from a 1970s sitcom with the scariest, darkest woods anyone will ever see (lighting is by Lucy Carter). The chorus dances spasmodic to choreography by Lucy Guerin. And the performances range from quiet (Michaela Coel's shell-shocked nurse) to barnstorming (Danny Sapani's loud Jason). In the title role, Helen McCrory is first-rate, playing the lady herself with the nerve-racking jitteriness of a withdrawal patient. When Medea's madness finally overtakes her and the fatal decision is made, this jitteriness recedes and McCrory provides the eeriest calm you'll ever see . If the whole production matched her clear-cut choices, this Medea would be a horror show of Lars Von Trier-sized proportions.

Lucy Briggs-Owen as Viola and Tom Bateman as Will Shakespeare in Lee Hall's stage adaptation of Shakespeare in Love, directed by Declan Donnelan, at the Noël Coward Theatre.
(© Johan Persson)

The mood on the West End is lightened significantly with the recent arrival of Shakespeare in Love, Lee Hall's affectionate adaptation of the Academy Award-winning film written by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard at the Noël Coward Theatre. Declan Donnelan's production has already been written about more extensively, but it proved to be a well-meaning antidote to all the stories of love gone wrong throughout Theatreland. It leaves you feeling uniquely hopeful. Perhaps that's why, on the Saturday afternoon it was reviewed, it received the loudest cheers from the notoriously quiet London audiences.