‘Let the Right One In’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by November 16, 2017

‘Let the Right One In’ is a romantic vampire fable, based on the first book by Stockholm born playwright, John Ajvide Lindqvist. It was written in 2006. For years, Lindqvist was a street magician and stand-up comedian, then, at the age of 38 yrs., he took up writing short stories. Most of his tales have been translated into 14 languages.

Lindqvist’s father drowned, and this tragedy is reflected in several of his books. Lindqvist acquired the name of this play from a song title by his musical hero, Morrissey.

In 2008, after TV scriptwriting for a few years, Lindqvist wrote the highly rated, film adaptation of ‘Let the Right One In’.

This captivating but chilling, stage adaptation for adults, presented by the Black Swan State Theatre Company is by Jack Thorne. The performances of this Australian Premiere are 100-minutes (no interval), and have curtain-up at 7.30 pm in the stunning Heath Ledger Theatre, within the State Theatre Centre of WA, in Northbridge.

On Tuesday nights, the performances are a little earlier at 6.30. There are matinées on Saturday afternoons at 2.15.

 

The play is set in Stockholm’s western suburb of Blackeberg in 1982.

For 350 years, Blackeberg was a simple croft and mill. Just after World War 2, the city of Stockholm acquired the land from Jacob, the son of tobacco giant, Knut Ljunglöf, Sweden’s richest man ever. On this site, Stockholm created a ‘new town’ of apartment buildings for their lower income workers. About the same time, eight kilometres to the east, Lilly Lindström was killed by Sweden’s most famous vampire!

The scene is a twelve-metre high, three storey, concrete, apartment block, with three flats on each floor. This design was inspired by a Rubik’s Cube, as the nine units can change with each scene. It can be nine homes, or the commercial side may be in view, with a shop and a sports centre.

The units’ walls and ceilings are painted in a dark grey. They are sparsely furnished with only the essentials. Every home had a vertical blind that could be drawn across the large window; this helps centre the audience’s attention to the single room, where the action is currently taking place. This is an amazing piece of theatrical design from set and costume designer, Bruce McKinven and his set constructor, Ben Green. By clever lateral thinking, when all nine blinds are drawn, the outer wall becomes a blank canvas for Michael Carmody’s numerous, projected visuals. Carmody has given us soft, fluttering snowflakes, and seconds later, a tenement block flowing in blood.

The lighting designer, Richard Vabre, already had the ominous task of lighting each home unit and the outside of the building, but he has added strobe lighting and various auditorium illumination effects to increase the tension and mental torment. Vabre has worked closely with the sound designer and composer, Rachael Dease, to produce the maximum drama from the split second effects. Dease fed us hints of barely perceptible noises, through to a theatre shaking 130 dBs. Rachael chose some well-known songs as part of the soundscape, but the last beautiful melody was one of her own compositions. The sound technicians were Tim Collins and Rohin Best.

 

        In the sports locker room we see a chubby teenager, Oskar (Ian Michael) being ruthlessly bullied by two classmates, Micke (Clarence Ryan) and Jonny (Rory O’Keeffe). Poor Oskar is a lonely child, living in a broken home with a disturbed mother (Alison van Reeken) who loves him, but sadly loves her drink more.

       A couple of floors down, a middle-aged man, Hakan (Steve Turner) with a huge backpack and carrying strange implements, is in the process of killing a young man. Next morning, the Police Chief (Stuart Halusz) is on television warning the public that yet another gruesome murder has taken place, and that all care should be taken.

       In the evening, as Oskar is leaving the sweetshop on the ground floor of the block, the kind-hearted shopkeeper (Maitland Schnaars) throws him and extra pack of lollies. Whilst the young lad is eating his sweets, a friendly voice is heard from the top floor. Sitting on the balcony rail, in a precarious position, is a young girl, Eli (Sophia Forrest). The couple sense each other’s loneliness, and both are pleased to have someone who cares deeply – In spite of her strange body odour. Eli will not share Oskar’s lollies, and even turns down an offer to go out for the day. Oskar finds her mysterious, but that is all part of her allure.

     Will their very different lifestyles eventually force them apart?

 

As the curtain rose, we immediately felt like James Stewart, overlooking a similar set of flats in Hitchcock’s 1954 film, ‘Rear Window’. The audience were soon confirmed voyeurs, as the action moved around the various flats, and the fascinating happenings taking place within.

Andy Cross, who was in charge of the extra-special effects – and BLOOD –, did a superb job. I must be blunt, this play is not for the fainthearted, but you will experience some magnificent visual effects. You will leave overwhelmingly moved.

Clare Watson initially joined the Black Swan family as an Artistic Director, and her immense visual talents are now on display in this, her directorial debut. The film industry can edit for impact, zoom in for emphasis, and add extras after shooting; in the theatre, everything is ‘live’ and at a distance, making horror an exceptionally difficult topic to produce, hence it is rarely seen in the theatre.

There were some hair-raising acrobatics by Eli, as she leapt around her balcony; these almost balletic movements were choreographed by the movement director, Claudia Alessi. The mechanists (Nathan Fry and Jordan Lee), who moved various large and heavy items on all three levels also operated the lead’s flying harness.

The convincing fight sequence was guided by Andy Fraser. The costumes were the work of Rozina Suliman and Jenny Edwards, whilst the dresser, Sarah Forbes, who would normally work at a gentle pace, had half-dressed actors on the top storey, appearing seconds later – fully dressed – at ground level. At several places throughout the play I was stunned at the speed of the actors’ movements and reappearances.

The stage manager Claudia Blagaich, and her assistant Meabh Walton had to cope with numerous entrances and exits over a dozen entry points. They had to make sure that furniture was moved in and out of the nine units, ensure the blinds were in place (I estimate around 100 combinations) and so their task continued. A massive job to control.

No matter how good the technicalities, if the cast has a single weak link, all of the tension could disappear and the result could even end as a farcical comedy. This cast was magnificent; each character was very different and richly observed, giving a genuine depth of unease to the story and atmosphere.

With the unrelenting bullying, Micke and Jonny really were nasty pieces of stuff, Ian’s portrayal of Oskar as a lost soul made one want to give him a hug. Alison was outstanding as the alcoholic and terrifying as her other character – a fantastic performance. Sophia was amazing as she shinned around the building. One minute she would be repulsive and a few minutes later, you could spot her loneliness and love showing through. Steve Turner? One of Perth’s nicest actors, playing an absolutely cold-hearted nut case – and so convincingly, he had me squirming in my seat. Brilliant performances from everyone.

With such a complex play to stage, a large cast and intricate effects Claire should be extremely proud of the result.

This is a once in a lifetime, spine-chilling piece of theatre. Your blood will freeze – if it is not sucked first!