In his seminal book on the theater, The Empty Space, Peter Brook writes: “In everyday life, if is an evasion, in the theater, if is the truth.”
A great deal of what if currently occupies the staging of plays at the Alley both upstairs at the Hubbard Theatre with Let the Right One In, and downstairs in the more intimate Neuhaus with Synching Ink. Both productions use bare essentials to tell their stories. A tree may be a tree in one scene and a wall between two apartments in another, while a blank circle surrounded by the audience can be a classroom in one act and a bedroom in another act, sometimes suggested by lighting small spaces as if that is all that matters.
By contrast most of the Alley’s plays use abstract stage directions and suggested sets whether it’s a new production like All the Way or classical like A Midnight Summer’s Dream. A couple of plays in the last year that relied totally on real-life sets are also themselves stage classics: Born Yesterday and Agatha Christie’s Spider Web.
Let the Right One In, based on the Swedish novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, has spawned two movies, this play, as well as an upcoming television series. A set of wintery trees dominates the stage while at times props like a candy store counter or a bed are wheeled in to supplement the drama.
Two pre-teen kids, Oscar and Eli become friends of sorts on the snow-lined monkey bars in front of their apartment. Eli is a 12-year-old female vampire. The title comes from the fact that she has to be invited into your room in order to physically enter.
As a play, Let the Right One Is has different horror beats that the respective movie versions. In cinema it’s easy enough to dismember limbs, crawl up the side of a tall building and wreak bloody havoc. The best parts of the stage version involve lulling the audience into a sense of complacency and then jolting everyone with loud sound and lighting cues.
Let the Right One In incorporates some of the Swedish film’s bloodletting, like an opening sequence where a victim is strung upside down from a tree, their neck slit so they can bleed out into a plastic jerrycan. The stage version establishes this ritual only to pull the plug before the victim has barely had time to bleed. Likewise, the ending sequence where Eli comes to Oscar’s rescue when he is being held underwater by bullies in the school pool lacks the verisimilitude that made the Swedish film a cult classic.
Nonetheless, this stage production of Let the Right One In mounted by the National Theatre of Scotland easily makes profound statements on the nature of bullying and the concept of immortality, all the while charming audiences with its various Scottish accents.
Let the Right One In runs at the Alley Theatre through March 19.