The much anticipated stage version of Let the Right One In is terrifying - but not emotional. There is a lot of excellence in this adaptation of the cult film but, crucially, it lacks heart and soul - somewhat ironically in a story about the undead.
Based on an extraordinary film, Let the Right One In is a dark, dark story about a teenage girl, Eli, who arrives in a small town with her 'father.' She strikes up a friendship with the boy in the apartment next door - Oskar. Oskar is an insecure lonely boy, bullied by schoolmates and propping up an alcoholic mother. Eli becomes his only friend, his confidante, and the two lost souls bond.
But the friendship is jeopardised by Eli's dark secret. She is a bloodthirsty vampire who must kill to survive.
For the play adaptation to succeed, it has to be dark, it has to be haunting, it has to be bloody and you have to care about the future of these young star-crossed lovers. And there was plenty of blood.
The manifestation of blood is superb. Yes, the violence of the throat cutting and the stabbing was vivid and wisely retained. But the generation of blood away from physical conflict, such as when Eli bleeds every time she enters a room uninvited, was incredible. I was so pleased the production did not hold back on its depiction of the horror in this story.
However this does mean I have some reservations on the Royal Court's promotion of this play to teenagers from 13 upwards. There is a very liberal use of the c-word in some places and the violence is vivid so some adults may be uncomfortable with younger teens seeing this. The film was 15-rated for a reason.
The set design was also superb. The stage is covered with snow and trunks of elm trees reach high up into the rafters. Under their branches, the stage doubled up as the dark of the forest and versatile interior settings such as school swimming baths, bedrooms and hospital wards.
The score is harsh, foreboding and a perfect accompaniment to a play where danger lurks around every corner and in the soul of every character. But though the play is a pulsating, violent achievement, it struggles with an emotional core.
The young actors behind Oskar (Martin Quinn) and Eli (Rebecca Benson) are superb in technical areas. Benson's jerky convulsions as she battles to control the killer within her are extraordinary. An actor twice her age and with twice her experience would be proud of such a performance.
Also Quinn really brings out Oskar's troubled soul, his growing pains, without him ever becoming wimpy and a caricature.
But the leads struggle to develop any chemistry between them. This story is of two lost kindred spirits coming together against almost impossible odds but there is little of that tenderness here.
Perhaps they are not helped by a script that is trying to do too much. Jack Thorne's writing retains much of the horror of the film but it is more a transfer of the movie rather than an adaptation for the stage. As a result, the production has a frenetic pace in an effort to squeeze it all in which prevents a foreboding emotional, steady build up to the terrifying climax.
Nevertheless Let the Right One In is a phenomenally ambitious piece of work and there are many achievements throughout it. It is good, very good. But because it didn't grab my heart I cannot claim I found it excellent.
Royal Court Theatre, London
To December 21, 2013