Tony and Olivier Award-winning director John Tiffany knows that vampires may be scary, but teenage love is even scarier. Combine the two and you have the opportunity for somebody to “rip your heart out and then show it to you.”
Tiffany has recently come to the consciousness of pop culture aficionados as the director and co-creator of the story for “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” which premiered this past year on London’s West End and will be coming to New York City in 2018. However, theater fanatics have known him for much longer, for his work on productions like the stage adaptation of the film musical “Once” and his first international success, “Black Watch,” which told the story of British Army soldiers in Iraq
In 2013, as the associate director of new work at the National Theatre of Scotland, Tiffany directed an adaptation (by playwright and screenwriter Jack Thorne, who would go on to work on “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” with Tiffany and Potter creator J.K. Rowling) of “Let the Right One In,” a vampire novel by Swedish writer John Ajvide Lindqvist that was also famously adapted into a Swedish film in 2008 and an Americanized remake, “Let Me In,” in 2010.
Now, “Let the Right One In” is touring the United States, with its first stop at the McCullough Theatre at the University of Texas. Telling the story of a 12-year-old boy who develops a friendship with a centuries-old vampire child, the show deals with multiple serious issues relating to childhood and adolescence.
To Tiffany, these themes bring him back to another play he directed for the National Theatre of Scotland.
“I’m very influenced by ‘Peter Pan,’” he says, pointing out the similarities between the characters in the J. M. Barrie classic and “Let the Right One In.” “Eli is a bit a like Peter,” he says, in that both are children who never grew up.
The difference, of course, is that rather than flying around and fighting pirates like Peter, Eli is a vampire. As a result, the story of prolonged youth and adulthood denied — an idea that Tiffany says he found attractive as a youth and much more off-putting as an adult — is much darker: “It’s really a teenage love story, but with a lot of blood.”
But despite the horror tropes that are a part of the world it creates, “Let the Right One In” is ultimately a story of two outsiders finding a sense of connection, and Tiffany has worked hard to find the heart of that story and put it on stage. This is very different from other work he has done.
Comparing this play to “Black Watch,” for example, he notes, “With something like ‘Black Watch’ you have a feeling and then you try and turn the feeling into a story, and with something like ‘Let the Right One In’ you try to turn a story into a feeling.”
That’s not to say, of course, that the National Theatre of Scotland’s adaptation of the story stands completely alone from its literary and filmic brethren. Tiffany has felt some pressure to live up to the expectations of the book’s fans, who call themselves “The Infected.” However, he adds that along with that pressure comes a sense of pride in being allowed to work with material that has meant so much to so many people — an experience that served him well when it came time to direct “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.”
And there’s no need to worry about whether a Swedish story adapted for a Scottish theater will play well to a Texas crowd. Tiffany points out that the American film adaptation, which he liked, was set in New Mexico and that it’s ultimately the characters and their internal landscape that matters most.
To lay bare some of that landscape, the play is punctuated by composer Ólafur Arnalds’ score, which Tiffany hopes will be especially appreciated by the community of music lovers in Austin
“Let the Right One In” has become nimble enough to play to houses wherever it travels. “It’s so long ago since we first did the first production of ‘Let the Right One In,’” Tiffany says, “that it doesn’t feel like it’s space-specific now, because we’ve done it in so many different spaces. We’ve had to become very flexible with the production.”
Now Austin audiences will have the opportunity to see this production in our own space, and be reminded of the fact that some horrors and fears go much deeper than myth — they run as deep as our own hearts.