The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Based on the novel by Neil Gaiman, adapted by Joel Horwood
Theatre Royal Bath
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At this point, despite only four years since it premièred at the Dorfman Theatre, The Ocean at the End of the Lane’s reputation precedes it. Through word of mouth or the marketing materials, the audience is promised something it has never witnessed on stage before.
So, when one enters and takes their seat in the auditorium through a reviewing lens, it is one’s role to ignore the hype and any such noise and fix on the performance alone. Within seconds, the audience is pulled into Neil Gaiman’s world.
Gaiman’s passion for creating fantastical new worlds forms the basis of what he refers to as his most personal story to date. It is not autobiographical but the essence of his childhood takes centre-stage in the story of the unnamed main character “Boy”.
Adapted, with a few changes to its original source, by Joel Horwood and directed by Katy Rudd, The Ocean at the End of the Lane sees a man return to his childhood home, thrusting him back to a magical world where he’s 12 years old. Alongside his new friend Lettie, they are confronted with an evil entity ready to take everything away from them.
It didn’t take long for the award-winning book to be teased onto the stage. A man like Gaiman, of many writing media, had yet to see his work adapted for the theatre. The challenges of amalgamating magic and fantasy with the so-called constraints of stage is something which left the author a little nervous. But it is in those productions that dare which often succeed.
The success of this adaptation can be pinpointed to the quality of production. The transcendence of its audience is almost solely down to its multi-dimensional staging. It kickstarts an almost immersive experience—which appears to currently be a dirty phrase in theatre at the moment, but not here.
Jherek Bischoff’s booming, synthesiser-led score is the beating heart, which transports the audience into a Stranger Things-like world of nostalgic fantasy. The soundtrack, supported by Ian Dickinson’s sound design, utilises every last possible decibel available and it pulsates delightfully. Fused together with Paule Constable’s remarkable, Olivier Award-winning lighting design, it delivers a mystical constant through the production.
If the staging is the product, then the company does an incredible job in selling it. Each movement, directed by Steven Hoggett, is impeccably choreographed and rehearsed. Charlie Brooks (Eastenders) employs her trademark evilness to a tee, with her wicked voice working terrifically in tandem alongside Samuel Wyer’s designed puppets. Keir Ogilvy, as the “Boy” and Millie Hikasa, who portrays Lettie, enjoy a seamless chemistry together—especially during the fight scenes.
Sometimes, the hype is real. The Ocean at the End of the Lane achieves something which feels fresh, raw and awe-inspiring. The story might not amount to ground-breaking, but the staging and theatre qualities do. It sucks the audience in, takes them for a thrill-seeking, other-wordly ride and sparkles throughout. Every now and then, a production comes around where you have to feel it—sometimes the hype and word-of-mouth doesn’t justify its magic.
Reviewer: Jacob Newbury