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Bryony Shanahan has taken a West End horror show full of production tricks and put it on in the round where everything can be seen

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After her chat to Big Issue North, theatre director Bryony Shanahan says she’s off to a “bite course”.

It’s an unusual part of a rehearsal process where actors will practice realistic-looking biting on stage. It will come in handy in Let The Right One In – a production based on the eponymous Swedish novel and critically acclaimed film by Jon Ajvide Lindqvist, and adapted by Jack Thorne, whose previous scriptwriting credits include Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

The play is set in a winter-bound Swedish town where lonely teenager Oskar meets strange new arrival Eli. Eli smells of “infected bandages and dead dog” but the pair strike up a powerful friendship. But then the bodies of townsfolk begin to mount up and Eli’s terrible secret is revealed.

“It is a horror,” says Shanahan, “but it’s a coming-of-age tale as much as anything else. I’ve been a fan of the book for so many years and what’s really drawn me to it is that it has these two elements: big, epic and gory, but at the heart of it, a real relationship between two people who feel like outsiders.”

It’s perhaps common to view everything through the prism of the pandemic these days, but the play, which was originally due to be performed at the Exchange pre-Covid, certainly resonates with recent events.

“I think it’s deepened the sense of isolation and loneliness that some of these characters experience,” says Shanahan. “Also, the feeling of this unseen presence just outside your door that is scary and potentially deadly is one we all have a bit more of an understanding of now.”

Can audiences expect to be scared?

“I want it to be a full experience,” says Shanahan. “But, yes. There are grotesque moments in the piece and we’re definitely wanting to embrace those. Not to be gratuitous, but to try and be as real as we can. Plus it’s programmed over Halloween and we are having fun with that.”

The play premiered at the Royal Court in 2013 and then moved to the West End. Shanahan saw both productions, which used traditional proscenium stages. The Exchange, with its renowned theatre in the round “automatically adapts” the play, says Shanahan, a fact that both “excites” and “genuinely terrifies” the director.

“We can’t do some of the same production tricks. We can’t disappear things upstage quickly or bring in a curtain to obscure things. Everything can be seen. That feels really exposing. But it also feels exciting because you can achieve moments of surprise, moments of horror, or moments of great intimacy, and it is right there in front of you. I think that’s really thrilling. So the space itself excites me and is testing us all as a production team, and it requires the actors to be really bold.”

Talking of actors, Shanahan was keen to cast the lead roles of Oskar and Eli first so that she could “build the world around them”. Casting the role of Eli was particularly interesting.

“How do you find someone who is both 200 years old and 13 years old? Who is both incredibly human and a vampire? It was really exciting when we met Rhian [Blundell*] because she does bring this fascinating quality. She brings with her this wealth of life experience, but yet can still bring a naivety – a childlike quality – to the performance.”

Another thing that excites Shanahan is the genre itself.

“You don’t often see horror on stage,” she muses, and then adds with a laugh: “Maybe I’m about to learn why.” But she’s been reassured by the reaction of the public to the presence of the play in the theatre’s line-up this year.

“I love the book and I love the film,” says Shanahan, admitting one might ask what need there is for a stage version of the story. “Those mediums exist and they are so great, but being in the same room as those people, being able to feel the air when someone runs past you or really see that blood up close – it feels like we’re pitch side and that’s really exciting and I hope really visceral.”

Let The Right One In is at the Royal Exchange, Manchester until 19 November

* Read an interview with Rhian Blundell in the Features section of

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Interact: Responses to Nowhere to hide

  • Review: Let in the right one – josemariasrestaurantgeneva
    30 Oct 2022 23:25
    […] Speaking to Big Issue North ahead of the opening of Manchester Royal Exchange’s latest product… that some might question the need for a stage version of Jon Ajvide Lindqvist’s critically acclaimed book and film. Was the transition worthwhile and successful, via a screenplay written by Jack Thorne (whose previous credits include the exceptional Harry Potter and the Cursed Child)? Definitely yes. […]

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