Theatre producer Marla Rubin tells Francine Wolfisz how tikkun olam has inspired her new play

When looking for the next hit show, theatre producer Marla Rubin looks for a deep connection to her Jewish roots – and she seems to have found one in the unlikely guise of a vampire tale.

A scene from the film Let the Right One In

A scene from the cult film Let the Right One In

Let The Right One In is based on the Swedish novel and cult hit film by John Ajvide Lindqvist and opened last week at the newly refurbished Apollo Theatre in London.

The venue in Shaftesbury Avenue closed at the end of last year when part of the theatre’s ceiling collapsed during a performance of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, injuring
almost 80 people.

Ahead of the show’s opening, a temporary floor has been installed at the balcony level. Below this hangs a beautiful ceiling cyclorama of the night sky, created by set designer Christine Jones, which Rubin describes as “exquisite and experiential” by immersing the audience deeper into the supernatural world created on stage.

Directed by John Tiffany, the production – which is co-produced by the National Theatre of Scotland and picked up a South Bank award following a run at the Royal Court Theatre last year – revolves around the mutual attraction of two outsiders:  Oskar (Martin Quinn), a young boy harangued by bullies and Eli (Rebecca Benson), a young girl with a penchant for blood.

On its surface, the play evokes fear and excitement with its gore, horror and vampire drama, but scratch just beneath this and Let The Right One In is actually a production that deals sensitively with the issue of bullying – something close to Rubin’s heart on a number of levels.

Rebecca Benson as Eli and Martin Quinn as Oskar in the stage production

Rebecca Benson as Eli and Martin Quinn as Oskar in the stage production

“All my theatre pieces are associated with social relevance and justice, or as we know in Judaism, tikkun olam,” explains the Montreal-born producer. “It’s what I use as the guiding principle in all the shows I do.”

“They have to have some element of this therapeutic healing of the world – repairing the spirit, repairing the heart, so that people who may have been broken can re-emerge. In this case, it’s a boy who has been broken by bullying.

“The story is presented in the sheep’s clothing of a vampire’s tale, but it’s actually about isolation and the longing for connection in this amazingly disconnected world we live in.”

Rubin was particularly struck by the play’s messages, not least because she was bullied herself as a child growing up in Canada. “It’s an experience that never really leaves you. You move on from it, but it always has a shadow on your life. “As I talk to more of my friends’ children, this theme comes up repeatedly and regularly, to the point that it is incredibly disturbing and that moved me intensely because, at its heart, the play is about that. But it is also about a boy who eventually triumphs over his bullies, which is very empowering.”
Social justice and tikkun olam have played their part in Rubin’s past successes as well.

Prior to Let The Right One In, her production of The Mountaintop, a fictionalised account of Martin Luther King Jr’s last night alive, picked up a Lawrence Olivier Award and transferred to Broadway.

Meanwhile, her very first foray into theatre, Festen, which deals with sexual abuse, won a string of awards and five Lawrence Olivier nominations. Rubin now plans to revive the production in London at the end of this year, to coincide with the show’s 10th anniversary. It will again be directed by Rufus Norris, shortly before he takes over from Nicholas Hytner at the National Theatre next year.

Despite her achievements, Rubin acknowledges producing a hit show is not something that happens easily.

The award-winning producer, who is based between London and Los Angeles and describes herself as a “practising JewBu [Jewish Buddhist]” explains: “Being a successful producer means you have to hold your nerve an incredibly long time. You have to be very patient and you really have to believe in the  material, because you will hear ‘no’ many times before you hear a beautiful ‘yes’.”

As the run of Let The Right One In gets underway, Rubin is hoping once more that audiences will be “enthralled and provoked” by her production, which includes “amazing visual effects” created by Jeremy Chernick.

She adds: “There are demonstrative gasps every night – and it’s hard to do that on stage. So I hope people will be hugely entertained. But I also want the show to be provocative, to change the thinking of someone who might be a bully to others, but to also offer hope to those on the receiving end.”

• Let The Right One In is at the Apollo Theatre, London until 27 September. The show is not recommended for children aged under 13.

Tickets and details: www.right-one-in.com or www.apollotheatrelondon.co.uk