Whether or not Scotland votes for independence in the forthcoming referendum in September, the country already made a decisive theatrical break of its own when the peripatetic National Theatre of Scotland was launched eight years ago. Now the company, which has already had many showings across the British capital with shows at the Barbican like Black Watch and (outside the building in nearby St John Street) Enquirer, is about to co-produce The James Plays with the National Theatre, bringing the two national companies together for the first time.
But first the National Theatre of Scotland are also currently having their first West End outing, with the transfer of Let the Right One In that was premiered in Dundee last summer and was subsequently seen at London's Royal Court last Christmas. Even more notably, however, it has now taken up residence at the Apollo Theatre, less than four months since that theatre suffered a catastrophic mid-performance partial ceiling collapse on December 19 that left dozens of theatregoers injured, some seriously, as they watched The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (itself a transfer from the National Theatre, and now set to re-open at the Gielgud Theatre next door in June).
This Edwardian gem of a theatre is now 113-years old, and had suffered -- in the words of its current co-owner Nica Burns of Nimax Theatres -- "years of benign neglect", in an interview last year before the accident. Nimax had already been addressing some of that neglect, last year entirely redoing the front-of-house, but now they've stunningly restored its interior, too, to its former glory. This building has long been one of my favourites in the West End; now it is one of also one of the most comfortable as well as beautiful, newly re-seated and glinting in a gold finish around the circles and boxes. The work is not yet fully complete: the balcony and ceiling are currently sealed off, with a temporary 'immersive cyclorama' installed to do so that carries the world of the show into the auditorium itself.
That strange, creepy world is summonsed with alternately tender and shocking surprises in designer Christine Jones and director John Tiffany's staging of this story. Based on a 2004 Swedish novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist and a subsequent 2008 film (that was re-made in English in 2010) of the same name, it's the story of a bullied teenager outsider Oskar who falls in love with a girl called Eli -- only to discover that all is not what it seems with her dark needs and desires.
I don't to say more for fear of spoiling those surprises, but it is constantly gripping as it springs them. At one point, I nearly jumped out of my skin; while The Woman in Black and the return of Ghost Stories both continue to deliver theatrical thrills, Let the Right One In has even more shocks to deliver.
It does so with a rare theatrical bravura that makes it positively engrossing. Accompanied by stunning movement by associate director Steven Hoggett and Olafur Arnalds's atmospheric musical score, this is a production that fires on all cylinders simultaneously. The performances of the ensemble cast are superb throughout, but it is the young actors playing the teenager protagonists -- Rebecca Benson and Martin Quinn as the central couple and Angus Miller and Cristian Ortega as his tormentors -- that captivate with their intensity.
"John Tiffany’s fine production...strikes me as being every bit as good as the disconcerting original movie. It’s less weird, but much warmer, though it certainly doesn’t short-change the audience when it comes to thrills and chills."
Charles Spencer for The Telegraph
"The ambiguities of the story, its comic potential and lingering tragedies, are not shirked, and Tiffany's production...is so painfully tender that, as you watch the show, if feels as if layers of your skin are gradually being flayed from your body"
Lyn Gardner for The Guardian
"I’d like to say that the applause at the end raised the roof. But, given the context, that might not be quite the expression to use."
Fiona Mountford for The Evening Standard