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Venue: The Drama Barn
Let the Right One In is not an easy play to produce, given that it revolves around the blossoming relationship between the unsettled twelve year Oskar and perpetually pubescent, 200 year old, ambiguously gendered vampire, Eli. Especially difficult when the 2008 Swedish film is considered a cult masterpiece. However, this only goes to show the strength of directors/producers Minna Jeffrey and Marta Donati's talents: their production of Let the Right One In is well worth a watch.
The Drama Barn had been transformed into an eerie, Swedish winter wonderland, with pallid, glittering birch trees and a distinctly sinister undertone. There was a sense that even when 'safe' at home, the dangers in the forest are inescapable. With reconfigured seating on either side of the stage, bar the occasional instance of poorly blocked actors obscuring key moments, performing in the round definitely helped intensify the immediacy and tension.
A gory serial killer is doing the rounds, and Oskar (Alfie Lanham-Brown) deals with vicious bullies, an alcoholic single mother and a distant father. He meets Eli in the forest, both are there because they want to be 'alone', and a strange friendship inevitably flourishes. Fizz Margreson (Eli) winningly captured both the subtleties and visceral savagery of a multi-faceted character. She was initially animalistic, scavenging around on the ground and naturally assuming unnatural positions. As her and Oskar grow closer, her humanity is similarly allowed to grow, highlighted by Margreson's gradual change in stance and mannerism. Alfie Lanham-Brown offered a strong, suitably troubled performance as Oskar, and the two managed to get the right balance between mistrusting fear and quietly developing affection. Admittedly, Oskar's habit of apprehensively biting his inner cheek did get a bit predictable, but then nervous kids have nervous ticks.
Evie Jones was stellar in her raw depiction of a mother desperately in love with her son but beyond giving him the care he needs. This provided an interesting counterpoint to Hakan, Eli's pseudo father/minder figure; Leo Clasen's tense, tortured performance focused on possessive love, striking a unsettling note between the parental and the sexual. The character also gave Chloe Kent's incredible makeup artistry a chance to shine, to very perturbing and successful effect.
Whilst the frequency of enthusiastically delivered, blood-curdling shrieks might suggest Let the Right Ones In is a grim, bloody depiction of isolation, death and misery, it's not all bleak. Oskar and Eli exchange some great lines but the sweetshop scenes were particularly fun. They provided vital moments of spot-on humour thanks to Alex McLintock's (Kurt) easy timing combined with smart sound and lighting decisions which preventing the play falling into one-dimensional, melodramatically gory territory. Indeed, although some overzealously smashed blood capsules did almost splatter audience members, this at least emphasises the sheer intensity of the play.
Despite the inevitable constraints a student production endures, logistical issues (namely big bodies of water, disfigurement and an abundance of blood) were cleverly overcome. Smart staging decisions (such as the morse code and bed in the nook) along with the use of levels were indicative of the creativity at work in this production. Let the Right One In felt like a real collaboration, which rested not only on the power of solid, considered acting, but also that of set design, sound, lighting, and makeup. If one of these components had been neglected, the play could have suffered. Fortunately, it was in good hands.