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The Ocean at the End of the Lane – New Victoria Theatre, Woking

Like War Horse and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time before it, this National Theatre production centres its storyline on a boy who goes on an extraordinary journey, both literally and figuratively. Boy (Keir Ogilvy) likes reading books and being outdoors, sometimes at the same time, back in the days when parents like Dad (Trevor Fox) could leave their children outside for some time without fear. I can just about remember not being too bothered about, for instance, whether the back door had been double-locked before bed. As for getting back up again to go downstairs to check, you’d have been accused of being silly.

Charlie Brooks (Ursula) and Keir Ogilvy (Boy) in The Ocean at the End of the Lane. c. Brinkhoff-Moegenburg.
Charlie Brooks (Ursula) and Keir Ogilvy (Boy) in The Ocean at the End of the Lane. c. Brinkhoff-Moegenburg.

These days, I suppose the relative security of a child being outdoors unaccompanied is part of the fantastical world The Ocean at the End of the Lane creates. The set (Fly Davis) is quite extraordinary, and the scene changes often happen at turbo speed. The narrative, too, proceeds briskly, but doesn’t feel rushed, rather providing a feeling of a sense of urgency, the implications of a particular course of action (or not) within a given timeframe being made clear (arguably, occasionally a little too clear). Lettie Hempstock (Millie Hikasa), whom Boy befriends – well, it’s really the other way around – possesses the kind of intelligence that brought to mind Hermione Grainger in the Harry Potter series, though she knows when to stop herself and engage with Boy at a more relatable level.

The production is, in many ways, highly imaginative – water is portrayed at one point as a vehicle for punishment, and in another as a means of escape, without a single drop of actual water being used, let alone wasted, on stage. For the most part, it’s a couple of hours of escapism, complete with lifelike monster-like figures and supernatural powers being unleashed to accomplish things that would be nothing short of spoilers if I were to reveal them here. Lettie is one of several generations of Hempstocks, the oldest being – wait for it – Old Mrs Hempstock (Finty Williams), who apparently remembers when the Moon was made. She’s one of those creatures (I would have said ‘people’ but the Hempstocks wouldn’t be very happy at being designated Homo sapiens sapiens) that has been around more than long enough to know what’s really important, and which battles are worth fighting.

There are some real-world issues explored just as deeply: Dad, a single parent, must grapple with bringing up Boy and his sister (Laurie Ogden), as well as full-time employment. Early on, someone known to the family is taken by their own hand, and Dad fudges his way through Boy’s inquisitive questioning. The awkwardness is palpable. Trust and loyalty are themes explored in the second half with admirable shrewdness from Boy. The magical world is portrayed as being terrible and terrifying, such that the production, in effect, asserts that our world might be dull and dreary in some respects but still has a lot going for it.

Ursula (Charlie Brooks), meanwhile, is the archetypal image of an antagonist with an outwardly sweet disposition. For reasons explained in the narrative, Boy is aware that all is not as it seems, to put it lightly, but with Dad and Sis under Ursula’s deception, he finds himself outnumbered. The cat-and-mouse escapades between Ursula and Boy have the wow factor in terms of stagecraft, judging by the audible gasps in the audience.

Not every concept introduced is followed through properly, which adds to the suspense – and, in my case, ordering a copy of the novel on which the production is based to see if that will shed any light on certain things I still have questions about! One to be avoided by those of a nervous disposition. One to be enjoyed by everyone else.

5 Star Rating

Review by Chris Omaweng

From the imagination of Neil Gaiman, best-selling author of Coraline, Good Omens and The Sandman (now a major Netflix series), comes the National Theatre’s major new stage adaptation of The Ocean at the End of the Lane.
This five-star spectacular from the producers of War Horse and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a thrilling adventure of fantasy, myth and friendship, taking audiences on an epic journey to a childhood once forgotten and the darkness that lurks at the very edge of it.

Returning to his childhood home, a man finds himself standing beside the pond of the old Sussex farmhouse where he used to play. He’s transported to his 12th birthday when his remarkable friend Lettie claimed it wasn’t a pond, but an ocean–a place where everything is possible…

From the imagination of Neil Gaiman, best-selling author of Coraline, Good Omens and The Sandman (now a major Netflix series), comes the National Theatre’s major new stage adaptation of The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Uk and Ireland Tour

Ursula / Skarthach – Charlie Brooks
Boy (Alternate) – Daniel Cornish
Dad – Trevor Fox
Understudy – Emma-Jane Goodwin
Ensemble – Paolo Guidi, Lettie Hempstock, Millie Hikasa
Understudy – Lewis Howard, Ginnie Hempstock, Kemi-Bo Jacobs
Understudy – Jasmeen James
Ensemble / Lodger – Ronnie Lee
Ensemble – Aimee McGoldrick
Sis / Ensemble – Laurie Ogden
Boy – Keir Og ilvy
Ensemble -Domonic Ramsden
Understudy – Joe Rawlinson-Hunt
Understudy – Risha Silvera
Old Mrs. Hempstock – Finty Williams
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 Director – 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 – Tom Turner
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 – Eleri B. Jones
Flying Effects – John Maddox for Suspended Illusions Ltd.
Photography: (c) Brinkhoff-Moegenburg

New Victoria Theatre, Woking
Until Sat 28 Jan 2023

Sunderland Empire
Tue 28 Feb – Sat 4 Mar 2023

New Wimbledon Theatre
Tue 11 Apr – Sat 15 Apr 2023

Liverpool Empire
Tue 2 May – Sat 6 May 2023

The Alexandra, Birmingham
Tue 23 May – Sat 27 May 2023

New Theatre Oxford
Tue 20 Jun – Sat 24 Jun 2023

Milton Keynes Theatre
Tue 27 Jun – Sat 1 Jul 2023

Bristol Hippodrome
Tue 15 Aug – Sat 19 Aug 2023

King’s Theatre, Glasgow
Tue 29 Aug – Sat 2 Sep 2023

Regent Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent
Tue 12 Sep – Sat 16 Sep 2023

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