Let The Right One In

Adaptation by Jack Thorne based on the novel and film by Jon Ajvide Lindqvist
Royal Exchange Theatre Company
Royal Exchange Theatre

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Pete MacHale (Oskar) & Rhian Blundell (Eli) Credit: Johan Persson
Pete MacHale (Oskar) & Rhian Blundell (Eli) Credit: Johan Persson
Pete MacHale (Oskar) & Rhian Blundell (Eli) Credit: Johan Persson
Pete MacHale (Oskar) Credit: Johan Persson
Rhian Blundell (Eli) & Pete MacHale (Oskar) Credit: Johan Persson
Rhian Blundell (Eli) & Daon Broni (Jocke) Credit: Johan Persson
Rhian Blundell (Eli) Credit: Johan Persson
Pete MacHale (Oskar) & Rhian Blundell (Eli) Credit: Johan Persson
Stefan Race (Jonny) & Pete MacHale (Oskar) Credit: Johan Persson

Based on Lindqvist's 2004 novel and the author's own adaptation for screen for the 2008 Swedish horror film, this play by Jack Thorne has at its heart a growing relationship between an almost-teenager and an ageless creature who survives from drinking blood but is certainly no Twilight.

it begins with such a constant stream of twists that it is difficult to assess which of them might be considered spoilers by some, but the tagline for the film, according to IMDB, is "Eli is 12 years old. She's been 12 for over 200 years and, she just moved in next door."

However the play begins with a horrific murder of a drunken man abducted on the street and then hung upside down while his throat is slashed (there is a warning on the banquette tickets that you may get splashed with blood at some point). The police officer leading the investigation (Daon Broni) has to admit that this looks like the work of a serial killer, but we see it being carried out by Hakin (a very sinister—and very blond—Andrew Sheridan). He is supposedly the father of 12-year-old Eli (Rhian Blundell), but nothing is quite what it seems.

They have moved in next door to Oskar (Pete MacHale) and his single mother (Mercè Ribot), who is usually drunk. Oskar is badly bullied at school by Jonny (Stefan Race), which teacher Mr Avila (Darren Kuppan) suspects but he doesn't do anything other than offer a sympathetic ear. Oskar meets Eli on the climbing frame of the children's playground outside their flats, and their friendship grows from there. She gives him a hint about her secret when they are playing with fairy tales and he says he would rescue her from the dragon: she asks him, "what if I'm the dragon?"

He takes her advice to hit the bullies back hard, but this gets him into a lot of trouble and leads to a showdown in the swimming baths with Jonny's big brother Jimmy (Kyle Rowe), which ends spectacularly badly for one party.

On one hand, this is played convincingly as a tale of blossoming love in difficult circumstances between two pre-adolescents; on the other, it is a tale of bloody revenge that takes the whole of the 2 hours 20 running time to be satisfied. It is also a vampire story, although the person who drinks human blood, cannot enter a building without being invited and cannot bear sunlight denies that label without the word ever being used.

Amelia Jane Hankin's set is remarkably effective, using a climbing frame and some wooden trunks with hinged lids for many different locations and then combining them for the beautifully realised swimming pool scene, helped immensely by Joshua Pharo's lighting design. Pete Malkin's sound design and music varies from sinister undertones to full musical scoring, but doesn't try to intrude on some of the more intimate scenes.

Bryony Shanahan's direction keeps everything at a slow, measured pace that draws you in without ever seeming to drag. There are breaks between scenes where scenery is slid into place, but this fits the general pace of the action for the most part, although towards the end, when the scenes are shorter and the breaks more frequent, it did feel like the scene changes were holding up the pace a bit.

MacHale is totally convincing as a shy, socially awkward 12-year-old, while Blundell is equally authentic as a confident pre-teen but with several lifetimes of experience on top of that—but that doesn't stop her wanting love and human contact. Effective use is made of the Young Company to fill the stage in some of the school scenes.

This is largely a tense and intense couple of hours in the theatre that doesn't shy away from showing the horror of school bullying or of bloody murder up-close, but there is some humour to lighten the mood from time to time. It's definitely worth a look, and perfectly scheduled around Halloween.

Reviewer: David Chadderton

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