The Ocean at the End of the Lane is an adaptation by Joel Horwood of the novel of the same name by Neil Gaiman and directed by Katy Rudd.
The show, which recently extended its run at the Duke of York’s Theatre until May 2022, is a spellbinding myth in the modern era. It is a story of a man returning to his childhood home and finding himself drawn to the pond of an old Sussex farmhouse. Recalling his childhood, he remembers his friend Lettie Hempstock (Nia Towle) and her insistence that the pond was, in fact, an ocean.
We are transported along with “Man,” played by Nicolas Tennant, to his childhood. Tennant morphs into “Dad”, while his younger self, “Boy,” is played wonderfully by James Bamford, who bickers comedically with Grace Hogg-Robinson, his bratty “Sis.” The family struggle to cope.
They have taken in a lodger, due to financial problems, only for him to commit suicide in the family car. This incident triggers paranormal activity that centres on the family. He meets and swiftly bonds with Lettie.
Plunged into a world of magic, Boy meets the remainder of the Hempstocks, a line of female witches that have the power to aid him in ridding the family of the sinister creature that is portrayed initially as a creature of rags and silks, designed by Samuel Wyer and directed by Steven Hoggett. Ultimately, the beast morphs into Ursula, a human-looking creature played by Laura Rogers.
The 16-strong cast works well together, weaving an enthralling theatrical experience within the confines of the Duke of York’s stage. Sound design by Ian Dickinson and effects by Jamie Harrison mixes wonderfully with the threatening puppeteering that brings the monster to life.
The show carries a 12 rating, and given its dark themes, moments of savagery, and frightening supernatural moments, it is well warranted. Paule Constable‘s fear-inspiring mix of shadows and lighting is exquisitely moody, with backdrops that dissolve from a kitchen into a forest and doors that spring into existence as both escape routes and barriers.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane introduces its audience to the magical world of Neil Gaiman. And while it covers many familiar tropes, such as the three ages of women seen in the Hempstocks (child, mother, grandmother) and the wicked stepmother role of Ursula, it also deals with issues of grief and the horror of growing up through teenage years, all intertwined with moments of exquisite puppetry.
For an audience willing to swap comedy and dance for a darker-toned, fantasy offering, the experience is rewarding. Watching a struggling family fight on after losing a loved one while outside forces attempt to push them over the edge will produce a cathartic release for many. We highly recommend it!
Book your tickets here.