Published in the Guardian
Butterfly or moth? Swan or duck? Angel or vampire? The teenagers at the chilling heart of John Ajvide Lindqvist's novel and its two film adaptations could go either way. They are at that formative point in adolescence, before their first kiss, when they are ripe with potential and burdened with uncertainty.
The mysterious Eli, both youthful and ageless, is magnetically attractive yet neither male nor female. The mesmerised Oskar, eager to be moulded, thinks he would accept this erotic creature whatever its gender.
It is this sensual, innocent, exploratory relationship that defines John Tiffany's beguiling stage adaptation, his swansong as associate director of the National Theatre of Scotland and a characteristically polished and poetic piece of work. Scripted by Jack Thorne and choreographed by Steven Hoggett, it replicates the shallow-focus Scandinavian atmosphere of Tomas Alfredson's 2008 movie, right down to the snowdrifts, climbing frame and Rubik's cube-era details, while giving stronger definition to the central love story.
On a forested set illuminated by icy blue light and the cool sodium glow of a streetlamp, a passer-by asks an old man if he wants something. "The time," says the man before slashing the stranger's neck and draining him of his blood.
Time, of course, is the thing this man has least of. Like Oskar, he is besotted with Eli, but he has grown older while this vampire child has remained eternally young, sustained on the blood he brings home. Word spreads in the backwoods community that a serial killer is at large. Defences are up, but for the bullied and lonely Oskar, Eli's arrival offers not a threat, but the hope of new life. How long before he ends up like the sad old man?
Sustaining the story's twisted erotic charge, Martin Quinn and Rebecca Benson give superb performances in the central roles. Quinn has all the awkward physicality of adolescence; half-boy, half-man and not quite either, his every sentence is a tentative experiment to find the right thing to say. Benson brings an eerie detachment and a taut muscularity, a creature trying earnestly to be human but remaining at one remove. It should be funny that she is wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with blood-and-gore rock band Kiss, but you sense the irony would be lost on her. She will always be curious, always strange, always other.
The production makes light work of the original's seemingly unstagable aspects, as Hoggett's Black Watch-style choreography stylises the violence, building to the supernatural force of Eli's final massacre, accompanied by a literally breathtaking under-water swimming-pool sequence.
Until 29 June (01382 223530). Details: www.dundeerep.co.uk