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Photo by Robert Cato

Let The Right One In

Darlinghurst Theatre Company presents, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, in a theatrical adaptation by Jack Thorne, at the Eternity Theatre, Burton St. Darlinghurst. 7th October - 20th November.

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (Lat den ratte komma in), is a Gothic Horror novel by Swedish writer, John Ajivide Lindquist, published in 2004. The novel re-enlivened the Vampire mythology, such that the artistic rights were swiftly bought for a film and brought it into the modern scene. The screenplay was written by Lindquist and Directed by Tomas Alfredson and released in 2008. It was an international success, praised for its writing, ravishing cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema and Musical score by Johan Soderqvist.

The principal casting was lauded as well. The central characters are required to be played by two young actors (12-13 year old in appearance) and the history of the extensive search for the ‘right’ actors to create, inhabit, these characters is now part of the legendary history of the making of the film. A young, bullied boy, Oskar, in his loneliness meets his new next door neighbour, Eli, who in appearance seems to be a 13 year old girl. Kare Helelbratt played Oskar and Lina Andedersson played Eli. The pairing of these two young actors produced a miraculous chemistry that carried the story and created an indelible memory for any who have seen the film. The angelic and touching innocent beauty of these two actors against the startling white snowed foreground in the forest-park of the early scenes of the film are unforgettable and were (are) an incredible tool that drew the audience into the magic and growing tension of the development of the relationship of this pair, surrounded by the bloody presence of a suspected serial killer in the western Stockholm suburb of Balckenberg in 1982.

The memory of this cinematic experience was a draw card to want to engage, once more, in the storytelling of the novel in the Eternity Theatre. Preparing for the evening I researched the reviews of the theatre adaptation in the UK, by highly credentialed Jack Thorne, and had most doubts swept away. I was eager to see it.

I noted, as well, that local ‘star’ Alexander Berlage was Directing this Darlinghurst Theatre Company production and it also seemed to augur well,  for he has amassed a very positive success rate in the Sydney Theatre scene in the past few years.  Though, mostly working in the Musical theatre realm – this ought to have registered some ‘red flags’ (although, his production of GLORIA [Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins], in the Reginald Theatre at the Seymour Theatre was a success).

Alas, this play text and its demands has resulted on the Eternity stage for fans of Mr Berlage’s artistic sureness, an immense disappointment. The Director seems to have made so many missteps in the collaboration to succeed with LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, that little pleasure, or even the desire to stay beyond the Act One curtain was experienced. It was a slow torture. A growing disappointment.

The Set Design by a regular member of Mr Berlage’s creative team, Isabel Hudson, (she is also the Costume Designer) has produced a silver columned and overhead beamed structure that sits with an immense factory or deserted medical laboratory presence on the wide stage, partly shrouded with opaque plastic sheeting. It has a weightiness that does not easily identify, for the audience, the many locations required for the many shifting scenes of the text in its storytelling plot – it remains throughout the course of the night a monolithic static blight for the imagination of the audience that became, visually, an obstacle but, also, created sound muffling in some of the enclosed and distanced spaces that made the auditory offers of the company difficult and unattractive. (The actors were also burdened with the unnecessary task of maintaining a Swedish dialect (Linda Nicholls-Gidley) – some actors were successful some were distractingly inconsistent). The lighting from the usually reliable Trent Suidgeest was generalised and just as ineffective in helping us to locate the environments of the plot. The hurting throw of the blinding white light into the auditorium as a prologue to the action and as an interval cover was not an invite to enjoy the Lighting Design at all.

The ‘architecture’ of this Set design is a colossal failure as it also required time to be spent in setting up each of the locations as well as to accommodate the changing of costumes (because of the doubling up of the roles played by the small company), into a time consuming hurdle that interfered with the musical structure – the rhythm of the piece – in building the tension of the storytelling. The design caused the production to idle in long waits of organisation that dissipated the energy of the playing.

This problem is covered by Mr Berlage in his collaboration with the Composer, James Peter Brown  (a usually sensitive and impressive talent), and the Sound designer Daniel Herten, to distract us with a highly theatrical score that intrudes at a noisey bombastic level. With no action on stage for many, many significant lengths of time over this near 3 hour sitting, we become increasingly aware of their offers that lead one to an anticipation of a follow-on in atmosphere and storytelling manifestation of an epic LORD OF THE RINGS scaled adventure – quite the opposite to the almost naturalistic suburban creep of the writer’s original novel and film.

The principal success of this production is a chemistry between the two leading actors, that is achieved, mostly, by the generous and enigmatic presence, beautifully constructed, subtle physical movement of Sebrina Thornton-Walker as the vampire Eli. This is despite the forced Acting (with a capital A) of 24 year old Will McDonald who strains to create a 13 year old. Mr McDonald is cute but not believable. Endearing but not believable. The lack of sophistication of his acting offers underwhelms the plot of the play’s romantic and terrifying seduction of the innocent by a creature some hundreds of years old in pursuit of a new partner to kill and supply the blood necessary for her (his!), Eli’s continued survival. The ugly, tragic storytelling of the final scenes are muffled and made opaque by the inability of the actor to create a truthful boy/man. The horror of Oskar’s future is blunted or made unknown to the audience.

“What happened?”, I heard many people asking as we descended the stairs to the exit doors.

“Well, in the film … blah, blah, blah”

“Oh. Really?”

“Yair. Watch the movie – It’s great.”

None of the other actors are convincing either, playing character solutions that are shallow representations of character types with next to no backstories to clarify their motivations. They appear to be invested in ‘bad’  Musical Theatre shallowness – in obvious cliche. They merely fulfil the scripted functions of the many characters that they have been asked to play and Mr Berlage seems not to be able to assist them. Most of these actors have a solid history of skilful performance, so, what went wrong?

I am noticing that I am protesting that the usual standard of excellence from most of the experienced  professionals involved in this stage production of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is lacking. Is this adaptation too difficult for this producing body? When reading of the UK production it seems there was a budget that could accommodate the demands of Mr Thorne’s vision. Was lack of budget a crueling factor? or, was it lack of time?

The  audience I saw this work with were enthusiastic in response. My partner and I were underwhelmed and unpersuaded. Relievedly, other friends agreed with us. It was not just a jaded old gal and bloke response. Phew!

We thoroughly recommend that if you have not seen the Swedish film, seek it out on one of your platforms. Do note the original translated title for the Swedish book (2004) and film (2008) is LET THE RIGHT ONE IN. There is an inferior American film version called LET THEM IN  (2010) and a television series will be released on October 9th 2022.

It is a great story.

No need to see this production except out of loyalty to the new management of the Darlinghurst Theatre Company. Give them some rope. Not to hang themselves, of course. Rather it is to give them some ‘slack’ to get back onto a more considered choice. There has been a wooing of a younger audience in this venue of late. I hope the standard set up through the splendid Play and Production of SEVEN METHODS OF KILLING KYLIE JENNER, in May 2021, is appreciated by the ‘youngsters’ and can be sustained by the Artistic company management. … KYLIE JENNER was certainly a high benchmark for myself, and I hope it has become a bench mark of excellence for those relatively new to the theatre. The theatre’s future depends on it!