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Let the Right One In

Nerida Dickinson

Gorgeously designed production maintains taut psychological thrill throughout.
Let the Right One In

Sophia Forrest and Maitland Schnaars in Black Swan's Let The Right One In.Photo credit: Daniel J Grant.

The eagerly anticipated first production from Black Swan State Theatre Company’s new Artistic Director, Clare Watson, promises a fascinating theatrical future for Perth and Western Australia.

In a new town, all functional accommodation lacking local history, ancient terrors arrive amongst the oblivious residents. Lonely Oskar is in the difficult early transition from child to teenager, exacerbated by relentless school bullies, self-consciousness of his pudgy body, an overly protective mother and a distant, disengaged father. Oskar’s sweetness and naivete attract the attention of new neighbour Eli in their shared nightly courtyard excursions. Oskar stays close to home, as his mother worries about a series of recent brutal murders in the nearby woods. Baffled police call for witnesses as slaughtered bodies are found, drained of blood.

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Hakan is devoted to Eli, prepared to sacrifice himself to obtain blood to sate her hunger, even as Eli warns Hakan that he grows old and slow. Hakan sees the threat posed by Oskar’s growing friendship with Eli, despite Oskar’s remarks on Eli’s strange body odours and habit of talking “like an old person”. As she encourages him to stand up for himself, Oskar realises that Eli may look like a young girl but is actually old and frightening.

The monotony of Oskar’s awkward early adolescence and low self-confidence is captured perfectly by Ian Michael. Difficult to love, lines delivered in a grating nasal whine, Michael’s Oskar is authentic in his enthusiasm for adventure fantasies, Rubik’s cubes and Morse code, while his clumsy social skills lead him to fall for Eli’s alluring promises. Sophia Forrest embraces Eli’s ambiguities in self-depiction, rejecting external labels or definitions. Forrest’s ability to create and maintain emotional intensity is key to the integrity of the entire story arc, while delivering Eli’s half-truths and revelations with requisite fascination. Michael and Forrest create the odd relationship at the core of the piece, their secure interlinking supported and explained through interactions with other characters. Steve Turner’s steady depiction of Hakan’s subservient devotion is key to the closing twist, while Rory O’Keeffe as Jonny and Clarence Ryan as Micke bring the living hell of constant, creatively cruel bullying into Oskar’s reality. Alison van Reeken, Maitland Schnaars and Stuart Halusz are versatile in their various roles and in ensemble scenes, deftly weaving a sense of larger family and community networks into the narrative.

An amazing set designed by Bruce McKinven is the hero of Let the Right One In. Closely working with Richard Vabre’s lighting, Michael Carmody’s video and Rachael Dease’s sound designs, McKinven’s versatile set is a visual delight even without its nifty functionality. Taking inspiration from the 9-square design of Oskar’s beloved Rubik’s cube, each stacked box stage segment is fronted by a sliding screen, behind a scaffold of railing. The set evokes, in turn, a representation of antiseptic ideals of boxed life architecture and a work of visual art evoking the bright colours and clear lines of Mondrian. The screens are employed for a range of video presentations, from police press conferences to stylised projections reflecting, amplifying and foreshadowing events, as well as concealing quick scene changes. Sections of closed screens depict a distinct Scandi-noir vibe through repeated abstract motifs of birch bark and snow falling against a night sky, setting the geography of an otherwise anonymous everytown from the outskirts of any modern city, without succumbing to kitsch overload or clashing with the immediacy of the strong Australian accents.

Watson’s direction keeps the pace exactly balanced between dragging on and jumping ahead to the next development, while encouraging each actor’s energy to feed into the slow burn of the mystery of Eli’s intentions. The gore and violence is shocking but necessary, given the premise, and presented as tastefully as possible. The modern setting, local tones and avoidance of set clutter bring strong themes with the potential for individual resonance, Watson and her team presenting the whole work in line with Eli’s personal fascinating ambiguities and contradictions. On the basis of this production, in choosing Watson as Artistic Director, Black Swan State Theatre Company have definitely Let the Right One In.

4 ½ stars out of 5

Let the Right One In
A stage adaptation by Jack Thorne
Based on the Swedish novel and film by John Ajvide Lindqvist
Presented by Black Swan State Theatre Company by arrangement with Marla Rubin Productions Ltd
Director: Clare Watson
Set & Costume Designer: Bruce McKinven
Lighting Designer: Richard Vabre
Sound Designer & Composer: Rachael Dease
Video Designer: Michael Carmody
Movement Director: Claudia Alessi
Fight Director: Andy Fraser
Performed by Sophia Forrest, Stuart Halusz, Ian Michael, Rory O’Keefe, Clarence Ryan, Maitland Schnaars, Steve Turner and Alison van Reeken

Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre of WA
11 November 2017 – 3 December 2017

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Nerida Dickinson is a writer with an interest in the arts. Previously based in Melbourne and Manchester, she is observing the growth of Perth's arts sector with interest.

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