‘Let the Right One In’ Theater Review: Eli’s Back and She’s Learned a New Trick From Carrie

This little vampire makes you believe she can bite, wrestle and choke a man twice her size to death. It’s like a trip back to the Grand Guignol and just as bloody

Last Updated: January 26, 2015 @ 6:54 AM

For those veteran theatergoers who saw Paris but didn’t visit the Grand Guignol before it closed shop in 1962, the new stage adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel and screenplay “Let the Right One In” is a must-see. Stage director John Tiffany offers some superb reincarnations of the bloodsucking and bloodletting that distinguishes Tomas Alfredson’s 2008 vampire film, and he adds another grizzly touch, inspired by Brian De Palma, that will shock no matter how many times you’ve seen “Carrie.”

In the opening moments of this stage version, which opened Sunday at St. Ann’s Warehouse, the chilly winter visuals by Christine Jones, the choreography by Steven Hoggett, and the electronic soft-rock score by Olafur Arnalds dominate the play, making the occasional snippets of dialogue by Jack Thorne seem almost superfluous, especially for those who know this story about a young-looking vampire, Eli (Rebecca Benson), who is ready to trade in one aging blood procurer, Hakan (the genuinely cadaverous Cliff Burnett), for a much younger model, Oskar (Christian Ortega).

The Scandinavian winter in the film “Let the Right One In,” like black-and-white Manhattan in “Sweet Smell of Success” or future Los Angeles in “Blade Runner,” is more than so much mise-en-scene. It’s a central player, one that determines the other characters’ fate.  That’s tough to achieve on stage, but Tiffany and his creative team provide a more than tangible environment in which Lindqvist’s characters also have no choice.

Not that Thorne is without ideas of his own. He pushes a theme of ephebophilia that’s barely hinted at in the film. Of course, Hakan looks much older than Eli, who is much older than Oskar. But before we get to those discoveries, Thorne and Tiffany have Oskar and his alcoholic mother (Susan Vidler) share a balletic tumble in bed. Plus, the man who runs a corner candy store is into teenage boys.

Thorne also softens Eli somewhat. Certainly she talks a lot more than she does in the film. Everybody, in fact, talks more here, which drains the story of its strange, cold exoticism. The play provides a more cogent, straightforward narrative, and the undefined line between love and need is very much spelled out, especially in the long second act. That’s where the dialogue unfortunately dominates the choreography and the music, which is a kind of minor key “Chariots of Fire” — or what someone might have written if the Brits had lost that particular Olympics.

Benson and Ortega are older than the actors in the film. They’re more high school than middle school, which means that their relationship is a little less perverse. Still, they’re very convincing as young lovers, even though she smells like a wet dog, which you won’t doubt for a moment from the looks of her. Nor will you doubt that she can bite, wrestle, and choke to death a man twice her size. The movies are one thing, seeing it on stage is another. Benson and her victims deliver quite a performance.

“Let the Right One In” comes to St. Ann’s Warehouse from the National Theatre of Scotland.