|Cristian Ortega and Rebecca Benson as Oskar and Eli.|
Photo by Manuel Harlan.
Seen on: Saturday, 1/24/15.
My grade: A. Gorgeous production, faithful adaptation, fantastically acted, but a few missed opportunities in the staging.
Plot and BackgroundOskar, a young teen perpetually bullied by his classmates and forced into self-sufficiency by an absent father and a distracted mother, meets his new neighbor Eli on the neighborhood jungle gym. Eli is alternately standoffish and friendly, but seems compelled by Oskar. Meanwhile, an old man is going around town killing people and draining their blood, for some unknown purpose. This dark but sweet story was adapted by Jack Thorne from both the Swedish novel and film by John Ajvide Lindqvist, and was previously performed by the National Theatre of Scotland at Dundee Rep and Royal Court in 2013, and on London's West End in 2014. St. Ann's Warehouse is now hosting it, and its run has already extended into March.
What I Knew BeforehandI'd seen the Swedish film as well as the American remake, though I've not read the book. And I knew the company who created the production was Scottish, so I was looking forward to a Scottish Sweden, because I'm mature like that.
Play: It's rather hard to talk about the show without delving into spoilers, so ... guess what? Spoilers! Eli's a vampire. Or close enough. A young (and yet old), rather emotionally stunted vampire. And her relationship with Oskar, as in the film, grows organically - strange and awkward, but somehow sweet and deeply felt. The story is dark, with as much moral grey area as there is snow, and yet the innocence of their love keeps a clean feeling, even as we see Eli kill, repeatedly. There's a simple magic to their interactions. from her sudden appearance on the jungle gym, to her solving of Oskar's Rubix cube. While there are a few missed opportunities in staging (I'm thinking specifically of the climactic pool scene, where they went to the effort of creating a pool and then not quite using it during the confrontation), for the most part director John Tiffany and Associate Director/Movement coach Steven Hoggett find gorgeous stage pictures, horrifying displays of blood, and a marvelous economy of storytelling. If you loved the Swedish film (or even the American one), I doubt you'll be disappointed by this rendering. You may even love the story more.
Cast: This is a deceptively small ensemble, such that I didn't realize how small the cast was until the curtain call. Everyone does top notch work, neither playing too broad (even with all the doubling) nor too subtle. It feels honest, and real, even as the unreal of the narrative takes hold. Rebecca Benson is particularly strong as Eli, modulating her voice between a high inquisitive warble for her interactions with Oskar and a more gutteral and angry intonation with Hakan, her aging companion posing as her father. Her feral need for blood is counterbalanced by her comparative weak physicality - she repeatedly attacks men much larger than herself, who nearly fight her off each time. And despite this, she possesses a compelling physical adroitness that allows her to scale the set - trees, jungle gym, and the like, with an ease that makes it seem she might actually be floating.
Design: This set was stunning. Soft snow covered the ground and continued to fall throughout the show. A cold metal jungle gym dominated the left side of the stage, and birch trees populated the rest of the space. Portable set pieces - a set of lockers, a hospital bed, a couch - were brought on and off by the cast, who wandered the space, bundled against the cold. Offensively good special effects work by Jeremy Chernick, particularly with the blood work with Eli. And one particular sound cue by Gareth Fry scared me so much I almost fell out of my seat.
Running: now playing at St. Ann's Warehouse (National Theatre of Scotland) - Opened January 25, 2015. Closing: March 8, 2015 (just extended)
Category: straight play
Length: 2 hours, 15 minutes, including intermission
Playwright: Jack Thorne (based on Swedish novel and film by John Ajvide Lindqvist)
Director: John Tiffany
Designers: Steven Hoggett (Set & Costume), Chahine Yavroyan (Lighting), Gareth Fry (Sound), Christine Jones (Music), Jeremy Chernick (Special Effects), Steven Hoggett (Associate Director/Movement).
Cast: Rebecca Benson, Cliff Burnett, Graeme Dalling, Andrew Fraser, Gavin Kean, Gary Mackay, Angus Miller, Cristian Ortega, Susan Vidler.
|Rebecca Benson as Eli. Photo by Manuel Harlan.|