Following success at both the National's Dorfman and in London's West End, Joel Horwood's adaptation of Neil Gaiman's novel has begun its year on the road. With seismic design, wondrous physicality and a pure-hearted story, audiences up and down the country are in for a treat. 

At its core, this production is a thematic sequel to fellow National Theatre success Curious  Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, both in terms of powerful movement design but also as it toys with a weathered father-son relationship on the verge of splintering. Boy (Keir Ogilvy) is continuing to mourn the loss of his mother whilst his dad (Trevor Fox) is forced to take on a lodger and work longer hours to simply put food on the table - even though he inevitably burns it. When a parasitic flea crosses the border between realities and takes up residence as the latest lodger,  the boy and his new best friend Lettie must conjure up their deepest bravery to rescue the world as they know it. 

Mostly unchanged from its London run, though missing a few practical elements, Katy Rudd's production is spectacular in its ambition and more importantly in its delivery. It is delightfully slick and surprising, with multiple set pieces warranting gasps from the audience - a sequence involving a seemingly teleporting Charlie Brooks as Ursula a particular highlight. Fly Davis's set design formed of thick woven branches makes for an ominous backdrop accompanied by rotating furniture manoeuvred by a sentient ensemble transporting us between kitchen, bedroom,  homestead and of course the ocean. 

Jherek Bischoff's score and Ian Dickinson's sound design breathe life into the fantasy world before us - the composition is visceral and unrelenting during traumatic moments but equally able to tug at your heartstrings when called upon - combined with the dramatic lighting design of  Paule Constable, this is a creative team on fire. Constable implants striking colour through the swirling mist but equally leaving space for the darkness necessary to create the clever on-stage magic - sensational design. 

Trevor Fox perfectly embodies the role of dad - his emotional range and physicality are superb. In the testing moments he is alarming and intimidating but as barriers come crashing down his desperation makes way for tender vulnerability and sadness as he tries to do the best by his children. Keir Ogilvy's boy balances nicely against Fox's determined dad. He captures the wide-eyed innocence of a child lost in stories, working well alongside the headstrong Lettie performed by Millie Hikasa. Charlie Brooks is strong as the invading flea, Ursula, quick to assert her control over the home and instilling a cackling creepiness into the proceedings. The cast is packed with talent and the roving ensemble are excellent in their delivery of Steven Hoggett's movement direction.  

Gaiman's story is one of imagination-infused grief with the boy having buried himself in classic tales of adventure and wonder, before going on to mirror the actions and qualities of the characters he obsesses over. A world of magic and mystery is built before us that is equally welcoming as it is unnerving. Productions such as these have a mighty power to inspire the next generation and uncover the inner child within all of us -essential viewing.


Review: Henry Longstaff             Photo: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg