Take a 2004 Swedish vampire novel that was made into a subtitled horror film as your starting point. Adapt for theatre beginning with a noiseless preshow of individual characters walking frenetically across the stage and then splicing expressionistic movement pieces right in between slightly heightened naturalistic conversational scenes. Dress on a bleak stage where little else but parallel silver tree trunks evoke a chill in each location they represent. By now you already know that you’re not in for a typical West End theatre experience here. If you were supposed to be heading to Thriller Live which plays next door, you will be in for a shock. But it’s a shock worth sticking with if you like the theatre to challenge your perceptions now and again in terms of what it has to say, how it says it and how it leaves you feeling as a result.
A truly harrowing, emotionally draining and supremely intimate piece of theatre that has now been brought to the West End.
For John Tiffany (the new Associate Director of the Royal Court) has, from this rather unusual concoction of ingredients, created a truly harrowing, emotionally draining and supremely intimate piece of theatre that has now been brought to the West End. If you don't know the story – not being a big follower of Swedish culture – to say it is simply a horror does it some injustice (though this is definitely the hook they are using for the tourists with vampires, blood and murder all staged scarily realistically. Move over Ghost Stories if you want to see how scary live theatre can really be!) Rather, this is the backdrop to a tale of loneliness, rejection of individuality and of the need to reach out to find something, anything to hold on to. Which is the beauty and impact of this storytelling. I can't remember the last time I've been in a mainstream theatre where the breathing of your neighbour could be clearly heard and you could sense emotion pouring from the seats. And you can feel people empathising in very personal ways. The intimacy is in the actors’ sighs, shared looks, small touches - a tear being wiped away by a fingertip – and then the screams that pierce through it. At times you will want to get on the stage and tell them to stop – when a body is being slowly bled to death like cattle; when one actor is pressing down on another’s head to keep him underwater for way too long. You have to remind yourself that it’s not real and you’re not the only person watching.
But that's also the problem here - it's almost too personal to share with anyone other than your most intimate of partners. An evening out with friends or family this isn’t unless you’re completely at ease with sharing your emotions. And it’s for that reason that it is unlikely to remain in the West End unless Bill Kenwright stays right behind it and pulls off a PR and marketing coup. There's too much shade and no light. It makes sense that it originated in the Royal Court but next to Thriller? No. And arguably the play it replaces - Curious Incident - did a similar mix of raw emotion and naturalistic acting combined with dreamlike movement but keyed to a West End audience. See it - but when it goes somewhere that suits it better. The Donmar? The Gate? The shame of staying where it is means it will likely lose its beautiful and pure intimacy to keep going - but you just won’t want to share this experience with anyone.