The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Neil Gaiman, adaptation by Joel Horwood
National Theatre
New Victoria Theatre, Woking

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Daniel Cornish ( Boy) and the Company Credit: Pamela Raith
Mille Hikasa (Lettie) and Daniel Cornish ( Boy) Credit: Pamela Raith
Daniel Cornish (Boy) Credit: Pamela Raith

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is an adaptation of what anyone would describe as an unstageable book. Packed with fantasy, magic and leaps of imagination, it would challenge any production team, yet the National Theatre Team inventively bring this world to life.

National Theatre’s popular production of The Ocean at the End of the Lane is out on tour, with the second stop the New Victoria Theatre in Woking. Neil Gaiman’s brand of magical realism has drawn in a lot of younger audience members who weren’t disappointed with Joel Horwood’s magical adaptation for the stage.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane deals with ideas of memory, friendship, reality and relationships. When a man returns to his childhood home for his Dad’s funeral, he is pulled down memory lane when he meets his once neighbour, Old Mrs Hempstock. Reliving his twelfth birthday, we watch the epic adventure he undertakes with his new friend Lettie when they have to stuff a monster named Ursula back through a rip in time itself, and Lettie pays the ultimate price to secure her friend's survival.

Directed by Katy Rudd, the stage is dressed with beautiful, entwining branches and twinkling lights. Just like Gaiman’s novels, Rudd gently leads us away from reality into a wild fantasy land. We start mundanely at a funeral, modern dress and a Dad harking back down memory lane. Before long, we are back in the '80s with neon pink costumes and burnt toast, and in another blink, the huge, raggedy monster of Ursula has burst onto stage.

Stories of magic onstage are hard to pitch, but the ingenious use of set and lighting transports into Gaiman’s improbable world. The highlight of the first half is Ursula and the moving doorways—some serious stage trickery teamed with atmospheric music suddenly makes a harmless woman seem far more powerful and dangerous than expected.

An extremely mobile set spins in and out between the boy's house, the farmhouse and the rest of the world. A troupe of physical theatre performers directed by Steven Hoggett animate the set and bring alive the monsters and mayhem. Composer Jherek Bischoff and sound designer Ian Dickinson’s soundtrack is overwhelmingly loud, but it drags us into into the heart of the story. Paule Constable’s lighting design adds to the sense of danger and threat of the puppets, and there is moody darkness of night on the farm.

Millie Hikasa is loveable as courageous Lettie, and her flying goggles steal the show. Daniel Cornish is all awkward angles and gangly limbs as the twelve-year-old bookworm, excellently bringing forth his mixture of grief and desire to know the truth.

An enchanting production which appeals to all ages; find a theatre playing it near you.

Reviewer: Louise Lewis

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