DRIFTING SEETHING POETRY AND HORROR: A VAMPIRE AT THE COURT
Unless you have spent recent years hiding (perhaps wisely) from teenage girls, you know that they have had their white little teeth firmly fixed in assorted novels about the emotional problems of vampires. Some theorists suggest that it feeds a need for forbidden calf-love now that liberal society beams tolerantly on inter-class, inter-racial and same-sex passion. Maybe. But few vampire romances reach the intensity and art of a 2008 Swedish film, and the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist on which it was based.
This stage interpretation of it by Jack Thorne, from the National Theatre of Scotland and Dundee Rep, is directed by John Tiffany and Steven Hoggett who gave us the powerful, balletic Black Watch. Here too movement is used surreally to set the mood or express the more extreme moments of shock; there is an extraordinary soundtrack by Ólafur Arnalds, veering from plangent gentleness to shrieking horror. The magic and terror of the snowy Northern forest towers in silver-birch trunks; the urban starkness of the young hero’s tenement life in a steel climbing-frame or fire-escape. Otherwise, only a bank of changing-room lockers and odd furniture roll by, and a huge ancient wooden chest rises in which – well, I won’t spoil horrible surprises. Take it minute by minute, on its own terms.
Because for all the gory moments it is a love story. Oskar (an impressive debut from Martin Quinn) is a lumpen, bullied boy with a drunken mother. He encounters the pallid and haltingly spoken girl next door, Eli. Her ‘father’ – protector or older lover, we do not quite know, and very nasty that is too – kills hikers in the woods, suspending them like pigs to drain their blood for her so she need not go looking for throats (though she does, terrifyingly). Eli is played with extraordinary power by Rebecca Benson: speaking with the halting questioning strangeness of autism, moving with catlike agility, perching, pouncing, shivering.
Each of them needs something. The boy is trapped by (very nasty and explicit) bullying and by his estranged parents’ uselessness. The “girl” is trapped by her awful destiny and her cold desperate hunger. She does not want to be a vampire. “I am not that. I live on blood but I am not…that. I choose not to be that!”. The play’s power and worth is in using this superstitious, borderline ridiculous metaphor to express and intensify real emotion: huge yearnings, seething hysterias, teenage sorrow at the world’s cruelty and inadequacy. At its best it conveys a drifting poetic sense of nightmare.
I could have done with fewer vicious bullying scenes done with overmuch relish, and the conclusion left me oddly unconvinced. Which is a strange thing to say after a vampire-horror show: but it proves how moved, and convinced, I was earlier.
box office http://www.royalcourttheatre.com 0207 565 5000 to 21 Dec.