Preview shows are not meant to be reviewed before the official launch of a theatre production. However during previews, a show will sell tickets to a paying audience, and perform the entire play, as it is meant to be shown. Usually for a few nights before ‘opening night’ on a larger production there will be a few such performances. The point of these is to allow the cast and crew try the show out to a crowd, before critics are invited in, with their poison pens, to give their esteemed written opinions. They get one final chance to iron out last minute creases. The preview is usually a short period of time – unless it’s some massive Broadway show like ‘Spiderman’ – where the previews ran for months.
Last night I saw the second preview show of ‘Let the right one in’ by the National Theatre of Scotland and BKL productions (directed by John Tiffany). It will be playing in the Abbey Theatre until January 6th.
I am not a professional critic. I don’t work for the printed press, or get paid for my musings. Nor did I receive a complimentary ticket for the show. I paid cold, hard cash to enable my attendance. I am not bound by the ‘no review during preview’ theatrical convention.
In any case, I’ve always felt that by the time a show is in preview mode, it is meant to be stage ready. If it isn’t, then there is something seriously wrong.
‘Let the right one in’ began life as a 2004 novel by Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist, before being adapted for the cinema in 2008 (and for Hollywood in 2010). Later it was adapted for the stage in both New York and London. This version is its Irish stage debut, and stars an all Irish cast.
It stars Craig Connolly as Oskar, a teenager who lives with his alcoholic mother (beautifully and hilariously played by Ruth McGill) in a house near the woods. Oskar lives a tormented life, constantly bullied and harassed by his classmates Jonny and Micke (Jamie Hallahan and Tommy Harris). A serious of brutal murders in the woods, brings terror to the neighbourhood. At the same time a father and daughter pair, move into the house next door to Oskar’s. Their curtains are never opened. The opening scene sees the father character Hakan (Nick Dunning) drug a man and then slit his throat and collect the gushing blood, while pleading for forgiveness.
‘They are probably alcoholics,’ sneers Oskar’s mum, as she glugs down another bottle of cheap wine.
Oskar befriends Eli (Katie Honan) – the new girl next door. Slowly they start falling in love – so smitten is he, that he ignores the fact that she smells like an infected bandage.
Eli is strange. Only appearing after dark, she is weird and otherworldly. She’s not like any girl he’s ever met. In fact she barely seems human.
Oskar’s tale of bullying and loneliness is movingly scripted and acted. Isolated and alone, he has to endure the misery of adolescence and PE class, all on his own. He welcomes Eli into his life gratefully. Even though she is creepy and neurotic, and her odour is like that of a dying dog.
Connolly gives a highly likable and believable portrayal of a troubled youth, desperately searching for connection.
Katie Honan as Eli gives a wonderfully physical performance, prowling the stage like a caged animal, looking like she is ready to pounce at any moment. Completely naïve to the ways of the world, she doesn’t seem quite of this time. My issue with this character was about the age of the actor playing her. I have no idea how old Honan is, and she is certainly a remarkably charismatic stage presence. She is probably in her twenties. However being in the second row, I couldn’t help but notice how seasoned she looked compared to the younger male cast – whose peer she was meant to be playing. A teenager? I think not.
That’s not Honan’s fault of course (and I am a fan – having already enjoyed her performance in ‘Murder of crows’ late last year – you can read all about it HERE…).
The staging, lighting, gory special effects and sound were all impeccable.
So impeccable in fact, that about fifteen minutes before the end of the show, and about one minute after a very bright and sudden light effect, there were screams from the audience.
‘Oh here we go,’ I thought to myself. ‘They’re not actually going to plant a cast member in the audience are they?’
I know that it is approaching panto season.
But this is the Abbey. Darling.
How very common of them. So low-rent.
‘Turn on the lights. My friend is not breathing’ screamed a woman seated three rows behind me.
Obviously aware of the commotion, but unable to place it precisely, the cast continued on stage. Like any good actor is supposed to.
The ruckus in the seats continued. People were switching their torches on. Some screamed for an ambulance.
I knew that this was not part of the play.
The houselights came up. The sound effects ceased. The cast left the stage. The play paused. This was serious.
Someone must be having a heart attack, or major medical emergency.
I spotted the distressed person. It was a young man in his twenties, seemingly unconscious. His friends were shrieking in fear. Their terror was possibly exacerbated by the unsettling and creepy play they had been watching.
Suddenly his eyes shot open. He looked around, completely dazed and confused. But awake at least. The group of about eight people helped him out through the emergency exit. Their show over for the evening.
I am not a medical professional and I have no idea what the problem with this young man was. His crisis occurring so close to the flashing light effect, might seem to indicate an epileptic reaction?
Perhaps the flashing light effect ought to be announced over the tannoy prior to the show? The usher had informed some friends who’d been in the audience, but I’d not been told.
It was incredibly unsettling.
In keeping with the play in fact. Which continued a few minutes after the incident.
All told this was a wonderful production of a scary tale about loneliness, bloodlust, and murder. The story itself might be slightly juvenile – troubled teen befriends outcast, who turns out to be a vampire – but no less enjoyable for it.
All credit to the cast for this entertaining play, and their absolute professionalism in dealing with that unexpected interruption.