Let the Right One In
John Tiffany brings his Swedish vampire romance from London's West End to Brooklyn's St. Ann's Warehouse.
The creative collaboration between John Tiffany and Steven Hoggett is one of the most indispensible of our time, resulting in productions as exciting as they are surprising. This marriage of director and movement choreographer has given us several memorable, challenging evenings of theater. Their latest, Let the Right One In, is a stage version of John Ajvide Lindqvist's romantic horror novel and screenplay, currently making its U.S. debut at St. Ann's Warehouse. An extraordinarily imaginative production, Right One, which premiered at the National Theatre of Scotland before moving to London's Royal Court and West End, is not for the queasy; in fact, the play contains one of the single scariest moments ever seen onstage. Yet at its heart, Let the Right One In is a stirring love story, with a chilling vampire tale mixed in for good measure.
Adapted for the stage by playwright Jack Thorne, the show finds its protagonist in Oskar (Cristian Ortega), a young teenager going through his awkward stage while being mercilessly bullied by his classmates (Graeme Dalling and Andrew Fraser) with beatings and shouts of "piggy." Meanwhile, a series of gruesome murders have been taking place in their unnamed Swedish town, and the local youth has been advised to stay out of the woods. It's around this time that Oskar meets Eli (Rebecca Benson), a similarly aged young woman in whom Oskar sees the kindred spirit of loneliness. Eli, however, has a deep, dark secret, one that connects her to both the killings and their perpetrator, an older man (Cliff Burnett) who has been hanging people upside down and slitting their throats to collect their blood.
For the most part, it's a fundamentally relatable tale, especially as Thorne zeroes in on Oskar and Eli, played with beautiful sensitivity by Ortega and Benson (both original company members, though Ortega took on a different role in England). As they chase each other through Christine Jones' discomfortingly haunting set of snow and birch trees, icily lit by Chahine Yavroyan, we are instantly reminded of our days as love-struck youths. Jones' period-unspecific costumes turn these adult actors into children, making their coming-of-age affection even more familiar, and that much sadder, when we realize the story's implications.
The nine-member ensemble is collectively perfect, though the show rests on the shoulders of Ortega and Benson. Ortega's slump-shouldered Oskar nails the gawkiness of youth, while the particularly extraordinary Benson carries herself with an ethereally haunted voice and a vigorous physicality (crafted with Hoggett, who helps define these characters through expressive gestures) at once familiar and completely foreign. Both unforgettable performances will likely haunt you as much as the tricks Tiffany and Hoggett have up their sleeves.
One of the most spectacular aspects of Let the Right One In is the way Tiffany manages to translate the tension of a great horror movie to the stage. An otherworldly score by Ólafur Arnalds pulsates throughout, creating an uneasy milieu that builds to moments of true terror. Blood flows freely, from several locations on actors' bodies (Jeremy Chernick is the fabulous special effects designer). And then there's the spine-tingling sound work by designer Gareth Fry, which will make you jump out of your skin with fright. The horror and stylistic gore are all in the spirit of serving a very human tale, but squeamish audience members might want to have someone to grab onto.