Soft and gentle Oskar could not be found at the Abbey tonight. It is hard and sometimes unfair to compare an adaptation with a very accomplished original. Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, 2008) is one of those gems people hesitate to recommend, but never because of its lack of quality and only perhaps due to how odd or inadequate it feels at times.
Let the Right One In opens with the story of Oskar, a quiet kid who is systematically bullied at school. Not an original topic. But see, the only friend Oskar manages to get close to and keep is Eli, a slightly older girl who incidentally needs to be fed blood to survive.
John Lindqvist's script is a difficult one to stage. Adapted by Jack Thorne with choreography by Steven Hoggett, it is the story of a young girl condemned to lose the love of her life over and over. Some may say it is also problematic to make into a film, since the girl’s life partner’s character could be misinterpreted easily. The horrors of her double life and her need for blood are challenges this production at the Abbey accepts and presents successfully to a more than frightened and engaged audience. Be aware, my companion at the play got accidentally slapped on the face by the lady sitting next to him at one of the jumpy bits.
On stage we found without difficulty the animalistic impulse that makes Eli an unsettling friend for Oskar. We discover too, how isolated and detached the boy feels as his relationships with those around him get icy, no matter if they are family or school mates. The lucky charm for Alfredson’s production was a couple of young actors whose natural ability and undeniable chemistry made of the 2008 film an appealing and delightful coming-of-age story. But Oskar’s hesitant voice was nowhere to be found on the Abbey stage, neither was Eli’s angst and profound sadness. Craig Connolly attempts to convey the naiveté and enthusiasm of Oskar but he is far from Kåre Hedebrant’s performance. Katie Hunan misses the serenity and maturity that Lina Leandersson gave to Eli. Are these elements missing only because of a much older cast?
The stage design (Christine Jones) and effects deserve great credit in this adaptation. The snow covered forest, where terrible things are about to change Oskar’s town forever, is a wonderful background and resourceful backdrop to express the coldness and desolation most characters suffer throughout the story. Winter trees and a climbing frame that holds one of the most impressive visual artifices of this production offers in its final scene, are the basic elements that remain visible. Others such as the candy shop, Oskar’s bed or the gym lockers are brought in with subtlety and discreet flow with the help of Hoggett’s choreography.
Thorne’s adaptation translates well the horror elements onto stage, almost impeccably, with some exceptions such as its last scene. Despite the marvelous ace in the sleeve of designer Jones in the closing scene, the spectator is at risk of feeling overwhelmed by the strident lighting and disco effects. A pity the play does not leave room for the imagination in its final moment.