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The Ocean at the End of the Lane - National Theatre (UK)

Based on the novel by Neil Gaiman, adapted by Joel Horwood

Reviewed by Clare McIntosh

Noel Coward Theatre, London

Until 25th November


- A work that explores themes of childhood grief and the power of the imagination in an immersive and humourous production -

Neil Gaiman's novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, now adapted into a magical and enchanting stage production, is currently running at the National Theatre in London. The production itself is an clever and haunting retelling of the story, brought to life by a talented cast and crew in an intimate London theatre.

The play follows Alex (Trevor Fox, previously of The Curious Dog at Night-time) a middle-aged man who returns to his childhood home after the death of his father. As he revisits the places of his youth, he is transported back in time to a summer when he was 12 years old and befriended a mysterious girl named Lettie (Millie Hikasa). Lettie and her family live in a farmhouse at the end of the lane, and Alex soon discovers that they are not what they seem.

Photos by Brinkhoff-Moegenburg

The play is a beautifully crafted piece of theatre, with stunning visuals by Jamie Harrison and a haunting score by Jherek Bischoff. The set design (Fly Davis) is particularly impressive, with its use of moving parts and projections to create a sense of magic and wonder. Very cleverly, the set design takes us from the real world to a magical one, and from a historical time to the present. These changes of time and place seem seamless because it is so well executed. The programme reveals several hundred people who have been involved showing the level of sophistication that has been used in making this production.

Directed by Katy Rudd, the play is a dark and atmospheric tale, but it is also full of humour and heart. It explores themes of childhood, grief, and the power of imagination. A key theme in the work is boundaries, challenging the audience to think about the boundary between reality and imagination, truth and falsehood, childhood and adulthood.

The cast is excellent. Keir Ogilvy shows dramatic emotion as Boy. Charlie Brooks plays Ursula with the chilling undertones of a Stepford wife. At times the audience audibly gasped, so unnerving was her performance. Finty Williams shows a great deal of warmth and wisdom as Old Mrs Hempstock.

A truly magical and haunting experience.

Most of the time the plot has you on the edge of your seat, but, on occasion it breaks into humour and heart. At one point, I grabbed the hand of my companion in fear. The play explores themes of childhood, grief, and the power of imagination. The play leads us to naturally question boundaries – where is the boundary between reality and imagination, truth and falsehood, childhood and adulthood. An example of this is that the “ocean at the end of the lane” is actually a cow-pond. The former language evokes the imagination of childhood, and the latter shows the sobriety of adulthood. How often as adults do we revisit something we thought was vast when we were children, to find that it is rather disappointing and without interest as an adult?

If you are a fan of Neil Gaiman's work, or if you simply enjoy thrilling theatre, I highly recommend The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It is a truly magical and haunting experience. National Theatre is to be applauded for putting on such a well-executed production.


The Ocean at the End of the Lane


Author Neil Gaiman

Adaptor Joel Horwood

Director Katy Rudd

Set Designer Fly Davis

Costume and Puppet Designer Samuel Wyer

Movement Director Steven Hoggett

Composer Jherek Bischoff

Lighting Designer Paule Constable

Sound Designer Ian Dickinson for Autograph

Magic and Illusions Director and Designer Jamie Harrison

Puppetry Finn Caldwell

Casting Director Naomi Downham

Associate Director Sophie Dillon Moniram

Associate Set Designer and Draftsperson Tim Blazdell

Associate Movement Director Jess Williams

Lighting Associate Rob Casey for Ammonite

Lighting Associate and LX Programmer Tom Turner

Sound Associate Christopher Reid

Magic and Illusions Associate John Bulleid

Associate Puppetry Director Gareth Aled

Voice and Dialect Coach Kate Godfrey

Resident Director Nicky Cox

Flying Effects John Maddox for Suspended Illusions Ltd.


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