based upon the novel and film by John Ajvide Lindqvist
Black Swan State Theatre Company
Director Clare Watson
Set and costume designer Bruce Mckinven
Lighting designer Richard Vabre
Composer and sound designer Rachael Dease
Featuring Sophia Forrest, Stuart Halusz, Ian Michael, Rory O’Keeffe, Clarence Ryan, Maitland Schnaars, Steve Turner and Alison van Reeken
Heath Ledger Theatre
Until December 3
The last production of Black Swan’s 2017 season marks the completion of the extended and orderly transition from the company’s long-time artistic director Kate Cherry to the leadership of Clare Watson.
During the transition, Watson has gained the trust and friendship of Perth’s theatre community, and, as her much-anticipated 2018 season demonstrates, her board and Black Swan’s sometimes tricksy and disparate stakeholders.
But can she deliver in her own right as the director of a whopping main stage production in the signature theatre of her new town? Well, as we have just discovered, 61.9% is the new benchmark for overwhelming success, and Watson’s splendidly executed and often downright thrilling Let the Right One In does way, way better than that.
We didn’t need to wait long for those thrills to start. The first sights and sounds – Blue Oyster Cult’s smashing Don’t Fear The Reaper (just the opening salvo of Rachael Dease’s soundtrack of 1980’s hits and her own haunting compositions), and Bruce Mckinven’s Rubik’s Cube of a set, animated by Richard Vabre’s lighting and Michael Carmody’s projections, set the senses racing, and the first scenes, an ominous voice-overed narration and, not long after, a bloodlettingly brutal murder, set the nerves on edge.
So, within minutes, it’s apparent that Watson knows her stuff and recruits her staff wisely. Within a few more it’s obvious she has cast just as astutely – and, in the case of her two young leads, with some inspiration.
The business in and around Mckinven’s cube by the cast, supported by Claudia Blagaich and Meabh Walton’s stage management, is adeptly paced, and Rohin Best and Tim Collins’s sound operation is of exemplary clarity and quality.
In such good hands, Jack Thorne’s adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel and screenplay could hardly go wrong.
As much young romance and teen revenge tale as horror, Lindqvist’s story exposes the unpreparedness of smug, well-ordered suburban society to deal with that which lies beneath and beyond – be it phantasmagorical or all-too-human (as Edgar Cooke and the Burnies have shown us).
Which makes Let the Right One at its heart a grim tale, and Watson is wise to take it seriously. Sure the final flight of the young ill-matched lovers, the boy Oskar (Ian Michael) and the undead Eli (Sophia Forrest) after the destruction of their pursuers and tormentors has a redemptive quality, but the drained corpses they leave behind, and the hunger that will never leave Eli, are not a good fit for cartoon treatment.
Rather like Michael Lehmann’s ’80s cult classic Heathers (there’s something about that decade) it pays to play things straight, even when Eli is wrapped around her victims’ heads like an octopus and doing some extremely unwelcome necking (movement director Claudia Alessi and fight director Andy Fraser are kept busy throughout).
Rory OKeeffe and Clarence Ryan as the school bullies who make Oskar’s life hell are deliciously odious and ripe for come-uppance, while the seasoned core of the cast, Stuart Halutsz, Maitland Schnaars, Steve Turner and Alison van Reeken are exceptional without exception.
I understand that a vampire can only come in if invited, and Sophia Forrest’s Eli is certainly the right one. Tough and sexy, needy and very scary, she clambers over this play – and its set – with remarkable surety and athleticism. Ian Michael’s singular quality shines again here. He makes Oskar vulnerable, complex and surprising, and shows that weakness, like beauty, is only skin deep.
Let the Right One In is a mightily auspicious start for Clare Watson and the new phase of what is now her State Theatre Company.
Don’t miss it.