Review: “Let the Right One In”

I always try to go into the theatre with no expectations other than to be entertained. I also try to do some basic research on the show so I have at least a general idea of what I’m about to see. The Alley Theatre is excellent at including background information in the Playbill to make the show more enjoyable. Clearly many audience members during last night’s performance of “Let the Right One In” didn’t read the program — or bother to read anything about this show before purchasing tickets. I must admit that even I realized later that I had brought some preconceived notions into the theatre and it took me some time to sort out my feelings on this unique production.

I think that the majority of the audience at last night’s show simply saw the word “vampire” in the description and immediately assumed the rest of the story. But as one character in the show says, this is “not…THAT.” THAT being a vampire. To say this is simply a vampire story is to say that “Titanic” is just a story about icebergs. True, in both cases, the plot device (vampires or icebergs) play a key role in the development of the story, but “Let the Right One In” is so much more. This is not “Dracula” or “Twilight” and clearly that was a disappointment to some theatergoers.

I think the Alley’s press notes say it best, describing the show as “a brutal and tender vampire myth told through the turbulence of a coming-of-age romance.” Oskar (Cristian Ortega) is a tween growing up outside Stockholm. He is awkward and quiet, full of teen angst and dealing with many familiar childhood issues, including divorced parents and school bullies. The nearby forest has been home to several unexplained murders and it is there that he meets Eli (Lucy Mangan) and an unusual relationship starts to blossom. Meanwhile, the police hunt for the killer and the bullies tormenting Oskar plan their ultimate revenge when he dares to stand up to them.

Director John Tiffany (“Harry Potter & the Cursed Child”) has given the story a deliberately slow paced, which allows for both the tender and brutal moments to pay off in their own ways, including the most genuine “make you jump” moment I’ve ever seen on stage. The scene transitions and some narrative elements are set to haunting music and what can best be described as interpretive movements. The staging is brilliant, including the clever stagecraft used to bring realism to the violence. There is a stunning water effect near the end of the show that will leave you breathless (literally) and wondering how it was accomplished. The final scene, played out in a train compartment with no dialogue, brings the story full circle and shows both the beauty and the tragedy of the future in store for the surviving characters.

I left the theatre last night unsure of my thoughts on the play. This is not a show that gives you all the answers and sometimes even intentionally challenges you to think for yourself and find your own interpretations. But the more I think about “Let the Right One In” the more I realize what a truly special piece of theatre it is. This production from the National Theatre of Scotland is making its final US Tour stop here in Houston and we are lucky to have it.

If you’re looking for a show that is happy, easy to follow and ties up all the loose ends with a neat little bow, skip this. But if you enjoy fine acting, clever staging and a haunting and original narrative, do not miss this production.

***1/2 out of *****
“Let the Right One In”
A Stage Adaptation by Jack Thorne
Based on the Swedish novel and screenplay of the film by John Ajvide Lindqvist
Directed by John Tiffany
Presented by the National Theatre of Scotland by arrangement with Marla Rubin Productions Ltd. and Bill Kenwright
Alley Theatre
Now through March 19th
Tickets: www.alleytheatre.org
Photo: Cristian Ortega as Oskar and Lucy Mangan as Eli in “Let the Right One In” at the Alley Theatre

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