By Laura Money
If you haven’t heard yet, Black Swan State Theatre Company are about to stage the Australian premiere of Let The Right One In. This well-loved cult classic started out as a novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist. It has been adapted into two films – the original Swedish version – Let The Right One In and an American movie – Let Me In, both of which appear faithful to the source material. Let The Right One In was adapted to the stage by Jack Thorne (yes, the writer of Harry Potter And The Cursed Child) and marks BSSTC’s Artistic Director Clare Watson‘s directorial debut with the company. Watson facilitated a panel discussion recently to talk about the movies and novel and the vampire genre, from liminal spaces, to transgressions of gender, from 80s culture, to racism, from being bullied, to being a badass!
It looks like Let The Right One In is going to be epic in scale and theme. There appears to be so much to unpack. From the set design mirroring the rise of eighties culture (Rubix cube, computer games) to the ambiguous nature of Eli’s gender, the power play and dominance struggles of bullying versus protecting, to the simple challenge of blood and gore translating from cinema to stage – this work encompasses almost everything. Watson is clearly very fond of this stage adaptation – she spent several minutes describing in great detail how the work came to be and how proud she is of the production.
Firstly, we have to talk about the bullying. Oskar is described as ‘a bullied lonely teenager living with his mother on a housing estate on the outskirts of town.’ He doesn’t quite know how to deal with bullies but fantasises in an incredibly violent fashion and is obsessed with murder and violence. Simon Miraudo, (editor Student Edge, award-winning writer and critic, contributor to The Guardian, ABC Radio and RTRFM) identifies this as terrifying behaviour, considering that Lindqvist named his own tormentors in the original novel. Miraudo describes the Vampire myth as fundamentally cool…they wear cool clothes like The Lost Boys, they hang out at night like the kids who don’t care about curfews, and resemble a motorbike gang with their leather and spiky hair. We might laugh at the fashions now, but who in their right mind would call Kiefer Sutherland uncool?
It’s no coincidence that the events of the novel/movie/play take place in the early eighties. Not only is it reflective of the author’s own lived in experience, the eighties saw the rise of the vampire as an icon (read: new wave pirate.) They were badass, sexy, and – I know it’s hard to believe – fashionable. From The Hunger(1983) and Fright Night (1985) to Once Bitten (1985) and Near Dark (1987), The Lost Boys reached the top of the genre with its bevy of ultra-cool, forever young, high school babes.
David O’Connell (Arts and Film Editor at Xpress) is impressed by BSSTC’s commitment to the vibe of the eighties. He says that it seems like there are subtle references to most elements of pop culture – from the set’s nod to the panels in comic books, to the subtle soundtrack lending itself to an homage to the classic eighties horror film. He also acknowledges the tradition of a kid being bullied and needing/finding a protector – supernatural or otherwise.
The vampire genre itself is one of liminal spaces – Let The Right One In, among others navigates the space between youth and adolescence, friendship and love, and gender binaries. Eli, played by Sophia Forrest identifies as female, yet transgresses gender binaries in her mannerisms and attitude. The fact that she is a vampire (spoiler alert) is not incidental, believes Dr Janice Loreck (Researcher in Screen Arts at Curtin University and Coordinator at the Melbourne Women in Film Festival (MWFF)). She represents someone who doesn’t need to conform to any norm – be that age (she is in the body of a 12 year old, but has lived much, much longer), gender (she uses a boy’s name, wears gender neutral clothing, and questions her femininity), or power dynamics in relationships (her servant, Haken, would normally be in control due to his prediction for pedophilia, yet Eli is firmly in charge.)
If gender is fluid in the vampire genre, it stands to reason that sexuality is also. Dr Loreck has seen the vampire novel provide a fertile breeding ground for lesbian characters – mostly ones who will corrupt or ‘turn’ innocent youths. Widely acknowledged as the first vampire tale – Carmilla was a novella by Joseph Le Fanu that pre-dates Dracula by 26 years. It’s narrated by a young woman preyed upon by a female vampire/lesbian. If that isn’t a metaphor fit for Margaret Court, then I don’t know what is!
So, how does a violent, subtle horror story of the Indie screen translate to the stage? Miraudo thinks that as long as the blood, guts and gore are visible it will be ok. Watson assures us that it will be seen – using either projection or sheer volume of fake blood! This is not for audiences with a tendency to faint – after the recent accounts of audience members keeling over during the stage production of 1984 (someone fainted the night I was there!) Miraudo believes the audience should know what they are in for. With film, you choose to see a horror movie or an Indie film – with theatre, you don’t always know what you’re going to get.
O’Connell is less cynical about the translation. He subscribes to the less is more school of thought. Horror has such a rich tradition of tropes and dare I say, cliches, that make the film good. A well done piece of horror fiction leaves a lot to the imagination and then hits you with the right amount of gore to bring it all home. Dr Loreck was skeptical at first – film really lends itself to the horror genre. Upon reflection though, she realises the great tradition of horrific tragedies – spanning all the way back to ancient Greece and Medea wearing her crown of acid, or Lady Macbeth’s cry of desperation “Out damn spot!” as she tries to erase the blood only she can see. Watson assures us that it’s going to be as gory as the film version but with the weight of theatre conventions behind it.
So, join us for a frightfully delightful way to end the year and let the right show in!
WHEN: 11 November – 3 December 2017
WHERE: State Theatre Centre WA | Northbridge
INFO: Tickets $34 – $87.50 | Suitable 15+ | Adult and horror themes