Friday 24 May 2019

Enigmatic vampires and dodgy demons

  • Let the Right One In, Abbey Theatre
  • The Restoration of hope, New Theatre, Dublin
Craig Connolly (Oskar) and Katie Honan (Eli) in Let the Right One In at the Abbey. Photo: Mark Stedman
Craig Connolly (Oskar) and Katie Honan (Eli) in Let the Right One In at the Abbey. Photo: Mark Stedman

Emer O'Kelly

The week's theatre is heavy on the supernatural.

We've had reluctant vampires, comedy vampires, lustful vampires, and every other variety of vampire since Vlad the Impaler - according to some, the inspiration for the legend - unpleasantly stalked the earth.  Now, with Let the Right One In, we have an innocently pathetic vampire in Eli, the girl-woman at the heart of John Ajvide Lindqvist's novel and  Jack Thorne's stage adaptation of it.

In director John Tiffany's production for the Abbey, it's close to a triumph for a variety of reasons.

Not having read the novel or seen the film, I didn't know what to expect, but I found myself charmed, terrified, stimulated and saddened by turn at the skilful weaving of complex emotions into a tragically touching story of young love destined to be blighted forever.

Superb production values help, with a spare but evocative woodland set by Christine Jones which seems to change mood as the characters progress from sinister to nastily bullish and insanely murderous.

This is perfectly enhanced by Gareth Fry's unapologetically apocalyptic sound and Chahine Yavroyan's explosive lighting.

Originally a National Theatre of Scotland production, this staging of the piece has an Irish cast led by Katie Honan as Eli, the centuries-old waif who outlives her lovers in desire and actuality even as they feed her need for the nourishment of blood.

Honan is electrifying and stunningly matched by Nick Dunning as the despairing Hakan, the ageing lover who can no longer satisfy her, and Craig Connolly as Oskar, the gawky outsider from today's world, unathletic, unpopular, bullied at school and destined for tragedy when he finds love with the initially uncaring Eli.

However, this is an ensemble piece at its best, the simplicity of its premise given intensity and pathos by the interweaving of the warring forces of small-town society and the frequent emotional blackmail involved in family life, with Oskar's parents competing for control of his affections. This in itself plays no small part in the isolation that leads to his ultimate tragedy as the town looks for a solution to the savagery of the woodland murders which provide Eli with her required "nourishment".

It may be an odd choice for Christmas and is unlikely to appeal to family audiences looking for an alternative or an adjunct to the annual pantomime outing, but it's a terrific, satisfying piece of theatre.

*******

Philip St. John's The Restoration of Hope is unmistakeably a companion piece to his Temptress of two years ago. It is a surreal, supernatural black comedy depending on total suspension of disbelief.

Despite this it is almost impossible to believe the two plays come from the same author.

Temptress was funny, malicious, rather dirty, and moved at a nice little clip. The Restoration of Hope is leaden, heavy on "message", and falls over itself in its complexity, leaving one not so much suspending disbelief as suspending attention.

Hope has just been murdered, drowned, by her husband and is suspended above the netherworld, captured by a trainee demon whose job it is to persuade murder victims to return to life to murder their attackers, and thus gain a few more days of life. If they agree, then they can qualify for more time, the period extending as the tit-for-tat murders mount, and they in turn train more victims to follow in their nasty footsteps.

But Hope is tough. She's a businesswoman who had been on her way to a meeting (at 10.30pm?) to pitch for a contract, and she's not going to sell out just for a few days more life.

The unseen tycoon who is revealed as one of the leading demons - well, golly gosh, can you guess which household name it's meant to be? I certainly could - has clearly managed to wangle a preferential deal as to time back on Earth and wants a bit of that cake.

Enter Luka, the, nearly, boss man from the nether regions. At least I think that's his name - the programme doesn't name the characters. Nasty and powerful though he is, he's never yet come up against a tough cookie like Hope.

Moral: all successful businesspeople are demonic, unethical, and thoroughly nasty, and their plan is to destroy the world and everyone in it in the name of domination. Huh? Even Hope's original "possessed" monitor/mentor (again, haven't got his name) is nice simply because he's a lousy businessman in his earthly role.

It's 80 minutes long, feels more like three hours and is not helped by creakingly slow direction from Matthew Ralli. While Nick Devlin's fussy performance as the mentor is pretty disastrous, Jody O'Neill's Hope is overdependent on flouncing to express toughness. Only the always reliable Shane O'Regan as Luka comes anywhere close to transcending the overall dreariness, despite fairly good production values.

The Restoration of Hope is produced by Speckintime and High Seas, at the New Theatre in Dublin.

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