Let The Right One In: vampires on stage

The cult Swedish vampire novel turned film has been adapted again – this time for the Scottish stage. David Pollock talks to director John Tiffany about blood lust in northern climes

In debates about Scottish independence a theory is regularly put forward that Scotland more resembles a Scandinavian country than an Anglo-Saxon one. The political implications of this aren't high up on John Tiffany's list of considerations in regard to his new play, an adaptation of the hit Swedish vampire novel and film Let The Right One In, but the cultural connection certainly resonates.

"The playwright George Gunn says that Caithness and Sutherland have got more in common with Scandinavia than they do with the Central Belt (Edinburgh, Glasgow and their surroundings)," says Tiffany, whose Tony awards for the Broadway musical Once have further entrenched his status as one of the most important theatre-makers in the world. "You get the Viking influence there, churches called St Mungo's and St Olaf's, and there's something about the climate, the geology and the environment that leads to a particular outlook on life."

"Even thinking about the Scottish as a community," adds Tiffany's long-time friend, choreographer and collaborator Steven Hoggett, "I've spent quite a bit of time in the past in Corby, which is just a fistful of Glaswegians dropped in the middle of England, and even there all the road names are Danish and Viking. It feels like an intrinsic understanding of themselves, a kind of linking."

The pair, who were born within a month of each other in 1971 ("A month is significant in anyone's book," laughs Tiffany, the elder) are speaking during a lunch break from rehearsals of Let The Right One In, an adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist's novel and film about a young boy, Oskar, and his touching romance with a bloodthirsty female vampire, Eli. We're in Glasgow's Film City, the old Govan Town Hall, where the pair rehearsed their breakthrough hit Black Watch, another National Theatre of Scotland production. They've known each other since the age of 15, when they were schoolboys in Huddersfield.

"The question of when we started working together..." says Tiffany, "We could talk about the first show we made together, but to be honest, in terms of understanding the world, it started from the very beginning. It was about MTV, music, headphones, Kate Bush. The process of creating work together and the shorthand we've got now is as much about those hours watching The Chart Show, playing tapes and swapping CDs. We wanted to be pop stars, we really did."

"I always wanted to be in Massive Attack," says Hoggett.

"I wanted to be a combination of Liz Fraser, Tracey Thorn and Shara Nelson," comes back Tiffany. "All three of them. Can I sing? In my head, yeah." He says that each of their works develops its own imaginary soundtrack which helps them make sense of its tone and mood. His ideal soundtrack would be Kate Bush's song cycle The Ninth Wave, but for this project the pair have engaged Icelandic composer Ólafur Arnalds.

"He was a really early choice for us," says Hoggett. "There's something about that spaciousness, it's very precise music but it's got a kind of openness, it's really cinematic but it's intimate as well." "Cinematic" is a word that he uses about the adapted script by Jack Thorne, a playwright-turned-screenwriter whose credits include Skins and Shane Meadows' This Is England '88. "It's incredibly quick. The scenes are very fast, but if you look at the script there's hardly anything that you would call extended dialogue, it's all very sparse, it's lean, pared right back. We honour text, and the text we've got now is just so precise."

"It's a great story," says Tiffany. "There's a physicality about Eli as a vampire, and there's something Beckettian about the relationship between Oskar and Eli. There's little said between them, the script's very short but it's full of space. It's on a reservoir of emotion and connection and development, and that feels very theatrical."

"You get a sense of what happens to a community when this event lands in the middle of it," says Hoggett. "There's this incredible strident love story, but what fascinated us was how horrific it is for the people, and we've worked quite hard on that, to create the sense of a community who are impacted on. In the film you get a sense of how blindsided they are, how confused and distraught and frightened." Tiffany says this ties in with his experience of small communities on Scotland's east coast; Tentsmuir Forest on the northern tip of Fife was a visual inspiration.

He excitedly leads me through to show off the trees that have been delivered for the set and a fine coating of snow made of shredded plastic film –the scene of a stark, cold forest at night coming together. Commissioned by then-outgoing NTS artistic director Vicky Featherstone, who one-time NTS associate director Tiffany followed out of the door last year when she moved to the Royal Court (he'll work on two shows for her there this year), Let The Right One In has backing from two major West End producers in Marla Rubin and Bill Kenwright. Yet if Dundee is as far as it goes the pair will be content.

"We've made a very pure piece of theatre," says Hoggett. "We've both taken risks on this that we wouldn't normally. We haven't looked at it from a commercial point of view because that's not what we're paid to do and it's not how we think." For Tiffany, this show has the unmistakable sense of an era ending: he has lived in Scotland for 23 years, moving from Glasgow University to Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre to the NTS, and will shortly move to London.

Meanwhile, Black Watch is still running (it opened in San Francisco a few nights before we spoke), his one-man Macbeth with Alan Cumming is wowing Broadway and Once won five-star reviews when it opened in the West End earlier this year. Elsewhere his version of The Glass Menagerie, starring Zachary Quinto (Star Trek) hits Broadway in September and auditions will shortly be underway for the Australian version of Once.

"It's a surprise to me as much as anyone," he laughs about the success of his shows. "I've come to the commercial sector quite late and I think I'm old enough and ugly enough to take it with the pinch of salt it needs, as well as enjoying the benefits it brings and the opportunities it affords. Besides, Steven and I are from a town that's always been quite out of the middle. We feel very at home in places that remind us of that."

Let the Right One In, Dundee Rep Theatre (0141 221 0970; nationaltheatrescotland.com), 5 to 29 June

Arts and Entertainment
Kathy (Sally Lindsay) in Ordinary Lies
tvReview: The seemingly dull Kathy proves her life is anything but a snoozefest
Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

    War with Isis

    Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
    Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

    A spring in your step?

    Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

    Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
    Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

    Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

    For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
    Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

    Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

    As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
    The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

    UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

    Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

    Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
    Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

    Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

    If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
    10 best compact cameras

    A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

    If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
    Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

    Paul Scholes column

    Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
    Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
    How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece