The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Based on the novel by Neil Gaiman, adapted by Joel Horwood
National Theatre
Curve Theatre, Leicester

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Dominic Ramsden (Ensemble), Keir Ogilvy (Boy), Aimee McGolderick (Ensemble), Millie Hikasa (Lettie) Credit: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg
Finty Williams (Old Mrs Hempstock), Millie Hikasa (Lettie) Credit: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg
Cast of The Ocean at the End of the Lane Credit: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg
Charlie Brooks (Ursula), Keir Ogilvy (Boy) Credit: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg
Finty Williams (Old Mrs Hempstock), Trevor Fox (Dad) Credit: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg

Experiencing The Ocean at the End of the Lane is reminiscent of a fairground ride: twists and turns, shocks, scares, and a mixture of joy and sadness as the ride gently slows to a halt. You leave your seat and want to do it all over again.

Adapted by Joel Horwood from Neil Gaiman’s 2013 novella, and with the further creative might of the National Theatre behind it, this gripping production is in the early stages of a UK tour. If you can see it, do so—it is a wholly satisfying theatrical experience.

Underlying themes of things not being quite what they seem and the convergence and divergence of memory and reality frame a poignant story of friendship and family.

Down by a duckpond at the end of a lane, we meet Boy as an adult (Trevor Fox), returning to his childhood home for his father’s funeral. He re-encounters Old Mrs Hempstock (Finty Williams) and, as she gives him a glass of milk, warm from the cow, he is transported back to his childhood where, as a 12-year-old (played endearingly by Daniel Cornish, not pictured in the production shots), he witnesses the aftermath of the suicide of the family’s lodger.

Boy meets Lettie (a fabulously exuberant Millie Hikasa), who appears to be his age, but as they become friends and he meets her mum Ginnie (Kemi-Bo Jacobs) and grandmother Old Mrs Hempstock, there is something mystical and ancient about them: “I remember when the moon was made,” says Old Mrs Hempstock when asked her age.

Boy is a lonely child teetering on the brink of teenagerhood, lost in his books, particularly C S Lewis’s Narnia series, and with Dad (also played by Fox) and Sis (Laurie Ogden), we see a family grieving the loss of their mother the previous year.

Lettie shows Boy the wonders of her “ocean” (the duck pond), the portal to other worlds and monsters. Whilst there, he briefly lets go of her hand, allowing a nightmare to begin. Ursula (Charlie Brooks, clearly relishing the femme fatale and sinister elements of her role) arrives at the family home, worming her way—literally, in a rather gruesome scene—into their lives and all but Boy succumb to her charms. A quest to free Boy, and the world, of his demons begins.

This is a lavish production, an excellent cast and superb direction by Katy Rudd. Steven Hoggett’s movement direction really lifts the action, from the choreography of scene changes to stage battles, and most impressively, the stunning scene where Ursula is not what or where she seems as she negotiates multiple doorways.

There are so many layers to this production: Jamie Harrison’s magic and illusions, Jherek Bischoff’s thumping soundtrack, Ian Dickinson’s chilling soundscape, Fly Davis’s foreboding, fairytale-like forest framing the stage, Paule Constable’s lighting design, and costume and puppet design by Samuel Wyer—the sequence of Lettie and Boy swimming in the ocean is particularly moving, and a striking contrast with the mayhem of monsters.

Thrilling, gripping, fantastical and relatable, this is a production to savour.

Reviewer: Sally Jack

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