“Are you going to invite me in or not, Oskar?”
By Tom Barry
In a dark Swedish wood, the UoY Drama Society conjures a cautionary tale that explores how alike monsters are to people, and how monstrous people may become.
‘Let the Right One In’, adapted by Jack Thorne from the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, is not one for the faint of heart. The very first scene to greet the audience at the production’s outset is an act of murder. It is a chilling depiction of life lived on the fringes, of both sociality and definition, and of the havoc wreaked by selfishness over and over again. Based on the successful novel of the same name, the play is set in an innocuous Swedish town where a recent spate of murders have set the police watchful. A young, idiosyncratic boy named Oskar (Alfie Lanham-Brown), constantly persecuted for his perceived non-conformity by his peers, is befriended by the equally introverted Eli (Fizz Margereson), and the two begin to find some solace in their shared abnormality. But we discover there is more to Eli than meets the eye; slowly, we learn as Oskar learns that Eli, nocturnal and oblivious to the cold, is neither young nor old but something in between.
The play is unflinching in its enthusiasm to explore the darkest aspects of the human being. The audience sees and hears every death that occurs; blood spatters the lily-white floor of the stage as the crimes of the past repeat themselves. The production team, Minna Jeffery and Marta Donati, must be commended on creating one of the most original and germane sets I’ve seen in the Drama Barn for over a year. Evoking the environment of a Scandinavian birch forest, it embraces the limitations of the space and takes advantage of them; it is striking, intimate and utterly bleak. The frail trees and frozen earth are as sparse as the play itself. Much is left to the imagination, allowing the audience to place each scene in their own mental landscape, with occasional inspiration offered by a change in lighting (by Hamish MacLellan) or ambient sound. The sound design by Jack Cullimore is suitably stated and complementary, lending scenes a greater suspension of disbelief than they otherwise would have and blending well into the action. But for the most part, context is provided by the actor’s performances, who all succeed in their respective roles, in a captivating theatrical experience. Where the sound design succeeded in augmenting atmosphere, the brief injections of modern music are unnecessary and distracting, serving only to break the delicately built immersion which such pains have been taken to create; an odd creative choice when the sound design is so effective.
The audience sees and hears every death that occurs; blood spatters the lily-white floor of the stage as the crimes of the past repeat themselves.
It is not unfair to say that the play rests on the performances of the two main characters, Oskar and Eli, and in this regard both performers shine whilst playing characters far younger than themselves, embodying the dissonance between their mental and physical ages. Alfie Lanham-Brown as Oskar possesses an edge of concentration honed by the character’s upbringing, convincingly portraying an older, unusual mind within a child’s demeanour. The trials of his everyday life are rendered starkly before our eyes, informing how we understand his personality and his interaction with Eli. At first his trauma leaves him as cold as the snow that surrounds him, and as he begins to come out of himself he falls more and more for Eli, unwittingly finding in her the fire of first love. Fizz Margereson’s task in Eli was to play a character riddled with contradictions: she is physically powerful and yet holds no agency, burdened with guilt and yet incapable of reform. Margereson carries off her performance with aplomb, slipping almost imperceptibly from innocence to bloodlust, and implying a playful intelligence at odds with her predatory stance. We are never sure if Eli is villain or victim and could quite possibly be both, as she visibly quivers under the gaze of her intimidating guardian Hakan (Leo Clasen) and gradually seduces Oskar into the same doomed relationship. And during all this, she never ceases to be sympathetic, ultimately reflecting the play’s primary theme: that no one is truly responsible for who they are, and what they do; evil is never created, only recycled.
The moments and conversations they share are the best in the play, childish but challenging. Both see the world uniquely, in a way only they can, and their personal attraction triumphs over fear and heartbreak.
‘Let the Right One In’, is showing from Friday 26th – Sunday 28th February at the Drama Barn. Tickets can be purchased on the YUSU website or at the door.
All photos were provided by Maria Kalinowska