Theater Review: LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (National Theatre of Scotland at Berkeley Rep)

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by Chuck Louden on May 27, 2023

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area


Now playing at Berkeley Rep, Let the Right One In — a supernatural thriller and coming of age vampire romance — is creepy from the start. An ominous dark forest lightly covered with snow greets us. Actors dressed in winter layers are seen, walking, strolling and running. An older gentleman innocently calls a passer by over for assistance, unveils a knife and  murders him in cold blood. Thus the murder mystery story is up and running.

Rather than proceeding into a fast-paced thriller, as with a TV mini-series, the story slowly unfolds lightly covered with snow. Set in the 1980s before cell phones, word of the murder(s) are communicated through the television news, which exacerbates everyone’s fear and imagination. One of the protagonists, Oskar (Diego Lucano), is a 12-year-old boy living with his bitterly divorced mother (Nicole Shalhoub) and is bullied at school by Jonny (Michael Johnston) and Kurt (Eric Hellman). This loner in a small town suddenly encounters Eli (played by both Noah Lamanna and Gabby Policano) on the playground in the woods. Eli seems to be almost ethereal, unworldly, and aloof. Despite the cold weather, Eli is barefoot and underdressed. As Oskar continues to be bullied, and alienated from both his parents, and the murders increase, he and the mysterious Eli grow closer.

The ominous tone and choreography of the townspeople living in fear deepens, Eli’s powers are revealed to be supernatural. When Oskar and the audience finally realize that she is in fact a vampire, the story escalates. The last act is reminiscent of Stephen King’s Carrie where the tormentors get their comeuppance and both Oskar and Eli’s fate are sealed.

The play is adapted by Jack Thorne (Harry Potter) from a Swedish novel by John Ajuide Lindquist, which was made into a 2008 Swedish romantic horror film and then, more recently, a 10-episode horror series by Showtime in 2022. The slower-paced National Theatre of Scotland production is more focused on the growing unconditional friendship. The result though is the same for the audience as the movie and television series: slow building horror, although the fun show is not just for fans of horror.

The entire ensemble works well with several individuals playing multiple roles. Shows involving actors as adolescents don’t work if we don’t believe the performers playing them. Both Diego Lucano as the emotionally and physically tortured Oskar and Noah Lamanna and Gabby Policano as both victim and predator, Eli, give emotionally strong performances. Jeremy Chernicks‘ special effects andh Christine Jones‘s scenic designs  set the sinister tone that helps keep the audience in suspense. The swimming pool set for a final act of torture, in particular, will have people gasping in their seats. John Tiffany’s direction, including choreographing the actors moving through their scenes in the forest, helps the suspense to build.

photos (embedded with info) by Kevin Berne

Let the Right One In
Berkeley Rep
Roda Theatre
2025 Addison Street @ Shattuck
ends on June 25, 2023
for tickets, call 510.647.2949 or visit Berkeley Rep

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