The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Neil Gaiman, adapted by Joel Horwood
Theatre Royal, Newcastle upon Tyne
Wonderful to see a packed theatre buzzing with anticipation. The lights dim, evocative music begins, then blackout! Eight actors enter, and so the journey begins and it is a journey.
Dad, played by Trevor Fox, returns to his childhood home and finds himself beside the old Sussex farmhouse pond where he used to play. He ‘sees’ himself on his 12th birthday when his remarkable friend Lettie, played by Millie Hikasa, claimed it wasn't a pond, but an ocean, where everything is possible. A familiar figure from his past enters, old Mrs Hempstock, played by Finty Williams. A mythical, magical world takes over, where survival depends on their ability to overcome and outwit ancient forces that threaten to destroy them and everything around them.
The boy’s world follows showing the situation at home with his sister, played by Laurie Ogden, Dad running the house single-handed since their mother died, until a strange new lodger appears, Ursula, played by Charlie Brooks, whose real evil identity is only known by the boy. As old Mrs Hempstock says, ”where does reality stop and imagination begin?”—a question you may ask yourself when watching.
There are many scene and time changes with the transitions transcending to another level. The ensemble not only carries out the transitions but is part of the play, keeping it flowing and adding an extra unreal layer to the action, expertly choreographed by Steven Hoggett. Like Dad as a young 12-year-old, played by Keir Ogilvy, you may wonder, is this happening, is it real, or am I dreaming?
The ingenious set design by Fly Davis is a tour-de-force, beautifully complimented by Paule Constable’s dazzling lighting design and Ian Dickinson’s striking sound design composed by Jherek Bischoff. The unearthly puppetry designed by Samuel Wyer and directed by Finn Caldwell verges on the surreal.
This impressive design team is backed up with an equally strong cast. Ogilvy is totally convincing as a 12-year-old, contrasting with the equally believable Ogden. Hakasa is mesmerising in her role, as is Williams. Brooks's chillingly venomous portrayal adds a real sense of unease, while Fox excels in the role of Dad, a grounding force in a sea of enigmatic characters, moving from emotion to emotion with a natural ease.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane was the winner of the Book of the Year at the 2013 National Book Awards and has sold more than 1.2 million copies worldwide. Adapted by Joel Horwood and directed by Katy Rudd, the show is based on the novel and is the first major stage adaptation of his work blending magic with memory. It is billed as a thrilling adventure of fantasy, myth and friendship.
Gaiman, having been an avid reader since four, in his late teens, wrote to his favourite sci-fi writer L A Lafferty asking how to become an author; the rest is history. He started as a journalist and published his first novel in 1984. It is probably the closest to an autobiography Neil Gaiman has written. As a boy, he was always immersed in the books of authors such as C S Lewis, Edgar Allan Poe and J R R Tolkien, with Terry Pratchett and Stephen King having a great influence, which can be seen so no surprise there. Known for his graphic novels, including The Sandman series (a major new Netflix series which in its first 10 days was watched for over 198 million hours by audiences around the world), he has many best-selling works to his name such as Good Omens. Born in Hampshire he now lives in Wisconsin, Massachusetts.
With 18 cast and understudies, ten hardcore production crew and over 40 in the production team. This is an epic production in more ways than one. The play premièred late 2019 with COVID restricting its continuation. Still time to experience this unique production, in so many ways a continual feast of visual wonderment, plus a story about loss, being misled and friendship. This national tour will end with a run at The Noël Coward Theatre from11 October to 23 November 2023.
Reviewer: Anna Ambelez