Last month the beautifully refurbished Apollo Theatre received a priests’ blessing, before reopening to the public following the ceiling collapse in December. A wise precaution, perhaps, given the first show. John Tiffany’s chilling production of Let the Right One In is a stage adaptation by Jack Thorne, based on the vampire novel and film by Swedish writer John Ajvide Lindqvist. But then, as this staging so deftly suggests, it is not the undead soul that is the most frightening aspect of this story – it is the sense of emotional isolation felt by lonely teenager Oskar.
Though it meets the recent teenage enthusiasm for vampire tales, Let the Right One In feels like an old, old story. It inhabits a similar literary space, certainly in this version, to the fairytale, combining dysfunctional domestic detail with the supernatural. The forest, where bodies are turning up, is both real and metaphorical, as so often in fairytales. In Christine Jones’s design an eerily lit copse of tree trunks dominates the stage, and characters wander through it, lost in their own personal thickets. And throughout, with its slightly heightened delivery, use of silent dance sequences (choreographed by Steven Hoggett) and ambient score (Ólafur Arnalds), Tiffany’s spellbinding production (for the National Theatre of Scotland and seen at the Royal Court last year) sustains a strangely surreal air.
Oskar, a gawky young teenager, is in a painful place between childhood and adulthood. His parents have separated: Mum drinks too much; Dad is embroiled in his own emotional life. At school he is viciously bullied. In the woods, a serial killer is leaving the bodies of young men, emptied of blood. When Oskar meets Eli, a strange, pale newcomer to the area, he is too pleased that she is interested in him to worry about just how odd she is – until he cuts himself, sparking a terrifying reaction in her.
All sorts of disturbing sexual and psychological issues rumble around in the background, but Tiffany leaves them as sinister hints and concentrates on the curious relationship between lonely living boy and ancient undead girl. For all its weirdness, this is a tender love story between two outsiders, beautifully played, with Martin Quinn very touching as the awkward, troubled Oskar and Rebecca Benson outstanding as the seriously strange Eli. The show is certainly scary – with one really terrifying moment – but what is most disturbing is the all-too-realistic bullying and what is most haunting is the intense unhappiness of the two young misfits.