For anyone that has had the misfortune to endure the dreadful Twilight films and to have started to get thoroughly fed up with the current fascination sweeping through our younger generation with all things vampire, it would be easy to instantly discard this new play brought to the West End by the National Theatre of Scotland.
Yet as devastating a part of the story as it may be and as blood curdlingly clever as some of the gruesome effects may be it is a part of the story that cleverly takes a back seat. For this is about adolescence and growing up, broken relationships and new relationships and most absorbing of all about bullying. It is the exploration of the bullying that is without doubt the most harrowing, touching and engaging beats of the plot.
Oskar (Martin Quinn) comes from a broken home and lives with his alcoholic Mother. Bullying at school is making his life pretty miserable and when he meets a seemingly similar soul in the form of new neighbour Eli (Rebecca Benson) he finally sees a stab at happiness. Eli isn’t all she appears though. Her mysterious accomplice Hakan (Clive Mendes) lurks in the shadows whilst bullies Jonny and Micke (Graeme Dalling and Cristian Ortega) are making their presence known all too frequently.
Making his professional debut Quinn gives a remarkable and engaging performance as Oskar that touches and delights in equal measure and certainly makes him a young man to watch for in the future. With a natural demeanour he completely inhabits the role and shows a beautifully layered mix of vulnerability and toughness. His immaturity makes him the object of ridicule by his tormentors but it is this that draws the audience to root for him all the way.
Benson is less convincing as Eli. For a vampire that has many years behind her she appears to have remained pretty clueless about the world. In the attempt to make her ‘different’ she has become a character that it is simply difficult to connect with. Her stilted speech at times gives rise to irritation rather than sympathy.
Dalling and Ortega are powerful and brutal as Oskar’s relentlessly vile bullies and bring things to a startling finale that literally has the whole audience collectively holding its breath in suspense. A terrific moment of shock and awe.
John Tiffany’s direction holds concentration almost entirely and Steven Hoggett’s movement work adds to the poetic feel of the piece. The stunning yet simple designs by Christine Jones are beautiful. The snow covered forest of silver birches creep out to the auditorium with the addition of the temporary ceiling covering following the Apollo’s recent and much reported roof calamity.
This kind of fresh and engaging writing is what is needed in a West End that is so clogged up with aging musicals and money spinning star vehicles at the moment and with its reasonably priced tickets it has all over appeal to a new and younger audience.