In 2007, the National Theatre of Scotland brought their highly touted Black Watch to St. Ann’s, sending theatergoers flocking to DUMBO, then came back for a pair of return engagements. The troupe is once again in Brooklyn, now scaring audiences with its thrilling adaptation of Let the Right One In, based on John Ajvide Lindqvist’s 2004 novel and Tomas Alfredson’s 2008 Swedish film (which was remade in English as Let Me In in 2010 by Matt Reeves). As the crowd filters in to St. Ann’s temporary home on Jay St., random characters start walking across the stage, a snowy woods featuring a metal play set off to one side. Things get going when a creepy old man named Hakan (Cliff Burnett) captures a passerby, strings him up upside down from a tree, and slices his throat, collecting the dripping blood in a container. The blood is for Eli (Rebecca Benson), a hungry vampire girl who prefers not to have to kill her own prey. New in town, she befriends Oskar (Cristian Ortega), an odd adolescent who is relentlessly bullied by two of his classmates, Micke (Andrew Fraser) and Jonny (Graeme Dalling). Eli and Oskar hang out on the play set, talking about life, sharing a Rubik’s Cube, and discussing her foul odor. She encourages him to stand up for himself, which he is loath to do, but soon the battle lines are drawn, and violence awaits.
Adapted by Jack Thorne (Stuart: A Life Backwards, The Borough) and directed with a dark, stark intensity by Black Watch helmer John Tiffany (Once, The Glass Menagerie), Let the Right One In is a fierce tale of loneliness, desperation, and finding one’s place in the world. Ortega gives Oskar a bittersweet tenderness, Burnett garners sympathy as the obsessed Hakan, Fraser and Dalling keep Micke and Jonny from becoming caricatures, Susan Vidler does a sensitive turn as Oskar’s mother, and Gary Mackay excels in multiple roles (including Oskar’s father). But they’re all at the beck and call of Benson (The Wheel, Little Otik), who is electrifying as the feral Eli, surviving any way she can while knowing exactly what she is; Benson is so riveting, her voice gruff and primal, that you can practically smell her from your seat. The staging is often breathtaking, with movement choreography by Black Watch veteran and assistant director Steven Hoggett (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Peter and the Starcatcher), concluding with the unforgettable water-tank scene. A riveting take on the vampire legend, Let the Right One In paints a bleak portrait of modern life, streaked in dripping red, with danger around every corner, but that shouldn’t prevent you from stepping inside, accepting its invitation.