LET THE RIGHT ONE IN Review: Eli And Oskar Hit The Stage

A stunning new production of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel has arrived in Houston.

The Alley Theatre in Houston is currently host to The National Theatre of Scotland’s production of Let The Right One In, and if you have the means to see this play, please don’t sleep on it. You’ll be missing out on one of the most remarkable plays to travel through this city, and a breathtaking adaptation of a beloved book and film.

The production was written and directed by National Theatre of Scotland’s Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, who recently collaborated with J.K. Rowling on the celebrated West End stage play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and the two plainly have an assured handle on taking a world previously intended for page and screen and bringing it to the stage. Let the Right One In brings Lindqvist’s characters to roaring life, but the reworking is striking and unusual, more lyrical metaphor than straightforward adaptation.

The very simple stage design is beautiful. We’re in a snowy, wooded courtyard. There’s a jungle gym and bare-barked trees. Occasionally a set of lockers is wheeled in, or a bed, and suddenly we’re in a gym or Oskar’s bedroom. What we see is so pure, so guileless, that the few moments of spectacle that are waiting for us in the second act steal our breath. We’ve been in those quiet woods for so long that when we’re suddenly in the pool, or on the train, it’s deeply unnerving.

The cast is made up of only nine people – Eli, Oskar, Oskar’s mum, Oskar’s bullies, Hakan and three performers who take turns as townspeople, students, Oskar’s dad and more. But really, there’s only Eli and Oskar. The actors who surround them often creep through the backdrop, handing our leads their props, reinforcing their emotional journeys with choreography that is lovely and strange. They can change the set or carry off props in plain sight, because we can’t take our eyes off Eli and Oskar anyway. Oh, these two achingly sad, awkward performances, these wonderful weirdo misfits. Lucy Mangan and Christian Ortega are tremendous in the roles. They will break your heart.

Let the Right One In’s score and sound design, by Ólafur Arnalds and Gareth Fry, are hugely contributory to the play’s effect. It’s often still and ambient, disquieting beneath the surface of what we think we’re hearing – until, quite suddenly, everything goes loud and violent. This is a very scary play. It’s beautiful and moving and also truly terrifying in parts. It’s innovative and thrilling in that way that only live theatre can be, an adventure happening before our very eyes, an exploration that is all risk and reward, night after night.

Get your tickets here.