Review: ‘Let the Right One In’ (Play) @ Apollo Theatre

A last minute ticket purchase and a cheeky upgrade to front row balcony seats, it was always a bit of a gamble seeing something I was completely unfamiliar with. I came out not really in full comprehension of what I’d just witnessed, knowing that I’d enjoyed bits of this stage adaptation, but that any positives had been overshadowed by baffling elements.

Based on the film of the same name, ‘LTROI’ tells the story of a dark creature dependant on humankind for survival, both in terms of sustenance and security. The vampiric Eli is drawn to lonesome schoolboy Oskar, moving from her previous life to a new one in a bloody chain of events.

Starting with the positives, I can see why Martin Quinn and Rebecca Benson have received praise for their roles as Oskar and Eli. They’re relationship is compelling to watch, as they both appear to be teaching one another about life on either side of the supernatural barrier they straddle. Eli’s move from unsure onlooker to subtle controller of Oskar’s life is fascinating, and Benson’s performance was absolutely stunning.

Likewise, the effects and staging were interesting. Eli’s physical breakdown when she enters a building uninvited is haunting and captivating, and a credit to the most simplistic of devices, like fake blood, being the core of moving theatre. The frame apparatus was also incredibly innovative in its simplicity, allowing the graceful movements of Eli to be highlighted as part of her supernatural character. The first murder was also disturbingly handled, with the poor boy begging for his life suspended from the treetops setting the tone for the play to unfold before us.

One bit of the stagecraft I found near intolerable was the music. Yes it was well selected, but the sound system itself was the issue. It was so loud as to be uncomfortable, distracting from any movement on the stage itself. Then the movement itself wasn’t entirely compelling; there were attempts at what I can only describe as interpretive dance that, by and large, did not suit the plot. The only time it worked, in my opinion, was with Eli, because it was a manner of representing her supernatural movements. Otherwise, in all honesty, it appeared to be trying to make the play something it was not – high art over psychological mind-play and borderline horror.

I can’t fault any of the acting, but the inclusion of certain scenes was a bit odd as well. I understood that the bullying, the scenes with Oskar’s parents, were designed to show how little he had to stay around for after Eli’s heroic act. But they were often over-emphasised when the real interest lay in the young couple, and in the flailing relationship between Eli and former lover Hakan (Ewan Stewart), rather than the schoolyard name calling that could have been understood in half the time allocated. The same could be said for the scenes with Oskar’s mother (Susan Vidler) – why we needed to see her fears, her climbing into bed with her son because of these, was unclear and one of the few bits that completely lost my interest. It is worth noting that a lot of these little bits happen in the first Act as well, meaning that by the interval nothing feels settled and there’s no idea as to where the story is heading. This is a shame considering the second act was where events really picked up a decent pace.

I think, overall, that ‘LTROI’ was not an evening wasted at the theatre, but not an experience I’d have paid over the odds for (which, fortunately, I didn’t), and I can see why the theatre had to close the upper circle on the night we visited, as I imagine the target audience for such a play is rather niche. It mixed horror and romance generally very well, but the two did not always mix appropriately with the theatrical elements imbued within them, making it a difficult play to digest at points. However, for a last minute buy to occupy a couple of hours, it was worth a watch.

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