It starts when you approach the building and Albert Watson’s stunning image of a vampire boy gazes vacantly down on you. Emotionless, yet weeping tears of blood. This feels a bit special you think. When last did a theatre company commission one of the world’s greatest portrait photographers to produce its poster?
It jumps several gears as you walk into the auditorium and have your breath taken away by what is the most beautiful, eerie, atmospheric set you’ve seen in a long, long time (designed by on- and off-Broadway designer Christine Jones). It consists of a climbing frame set in a snow bound forest of towering (leafless – perhaps symbolically to represent lifeless) Silver Birch trees. 50 of them, perhaps more.
As we settle down members of the cast trudge through this forrest on their way to whatever they’re on their way to.
The curtain metaphorically rises and the scene bursts into life. Get ready for the ride folks…
Let The Right One In is amongst my all time favourite horror movies and certainly amongst my all time favourite love stories. The much-loved, 2008, Swedish cult classic was swiftly remade for Hollywood and most admirers of the original give it merely grudging approval, not this one – both are excellent. The book is apparently superb too, although I have yet to read it. Maybe I will now.
So, what John Tiffany and Steven Hoggett (Black Watch) faced as they put their minds to staging this show was not just a creative challenge, but an audience bristling with “this better be good(ness)”.
It’s not just good. It’s exceptional.
I was one of those “this better be good(ers)” for reasons explained above. But I’m a good guy. I wanted it to be good, I didn’t want to go there to find fault and I was rewarded for my optimism.
Let’s deal with technical excellence first. I’ve already praised the marketing and the set. Chahine Yavroyan’s lighting is also wonderful, especially in the scene on a train that appears as if from nowhere. But it’s the sound (Gareth Fry) music (Olafur Arnalds) and special effects (Jeremy Chernick) that really dazzle – they have to – this is a horror movie on stage after all. And, as if in a movie theatre, the score to this play, and the way it weaves in and out of the action, drive the show along relentlessly. My guess is there will be many, many requests to purchase the soundtrack which is both powerful and dramatic, like Sigur Ros in anger. Where it has most impact is at the blood takings, but also in several short choreographed scenes that bring small groups of men onto the stage to silently echo the actions of lead characters in such a way as to add an extra dimension that’s rare in non-dance theatre. And one of the special effects in the show is the best you will ever see in your life. I mean it.
Tiffany and Hoggett’s vision and orchestration of the whole thing leaves you breathless at times.
The script (Jack Thorne) is great, underpinned with both menace and wry Scottish humour, played out by a strong cast led by first-timer Martin Quinn and the elfin Rebecca Benson. Sure, it would have been great to have two twelve year olds lead the show but this ain’t Hollywood. Nevertheless, Quinn’s innocent performance hits the mark and Benson, as the real axis of the show, is haunting. It’s a mesmerising and engaging performance combining athleticism with quietly contolled menace and empathy. (What an odd paradox, but believe me, it’s a fair one.) We love this poor, ancient child from the off and throughout the grisly proceedings. A bedtime scene featuring the beautifully understated alcoholic mother played by Lorranine M McIntosh and Martin Quinn is quite lovely, totally original and deeply touching.
What Tiffany and Hoggett have achieved is really something rather special – the show that will lead to their future references as Tiffany and Hoggett (Black Watch, Let The Right One In).
And what National Theatre of Scotland has achieved is to be hugely applauded- not just for such an affecting piece of theatre but for having the balls to stage it in Dundee; not Glasgow where it would surely find even larger audiences.
If you don’t take the trouble to travel North, suit yourself, but don’t come crying to me when for years to come your theatre buddies reminisce about “that night in Dundee” when remarkable things happened.
Oh how Baz Luhrmann must have wanted his epic classical recreation to have been this good.