The much anticipated touring production of The Ocean at the End of The Lane has come to London at the New Wimbledon Theatre following a run in the National Theatre’s Dorfman Auditorium in late-2019 and a West-End run in 2021.
One thing I enjoyed about Neil Gaiman’s original novel is the feeling of not knowing what is and isn’t real. Does the nameless character “boy” survive the beasts that lurk in his garden? Or does he survive a traumatic and lonely childhood by imagining a fantasy to cope with his troubles? That’s for Neil Gaiman to know. This translation onto the stage, I love.
We follow ‘boy’ backwards through time to the 80s, events turn more wonderous the deeper he digs. Transforming his British suburbia into a horror show, where hands appear in bathtubs and doors don’t keep the monsters out. We also see ‘boy’ dealing with a troubled home life and personal tragedy.
The haunting playground of a child’s nightmares is softened by tender relationships and metaphors about human connection. Like a child Katie Rudds stage is never still.
Heading up the production Keir Ogilvy is bursting with energy - a sweet, naive 12-year-old ready to play the hero. Along the way, he is met by hordes of monsters and wicked creatures. Not only do the ensemble add the gore and horror to the piece but they also make this production what it is. I could have sworn the set was revolving but the combination of design (Fly Davis) and staging meant that scene changes happened in motion between scenes. Clever. The choreography of the ensemble into the scene work keeps the show running at a swift pace.
Millie Hikasa is charming as Lettie Hempstock. An other-worldly little girl with wisdom beyond her years. Millie brings commanding sunshine and vibrancy to a dark and at times solemn show. The friendship between Boy and Lettie is pure, it’s platonic love. Millie Hikasa brings an undeniable warmth that makes the audience feel better. Supporting cast member Trevor Fox as ‘dad’ carries a heavy multi-role well.
Katy Rudd and the creative team are masters at work on this production. The illusions surpassed my expectations, they really are a spectacle. It’s fantasy at its finest. I won’t give any of them away but it must be some of the best magic I’ve seen on stage. The puppetry by Finn Caldwell is so effortless that we forget the actors are standing on stage. This is dreamlike storytelling. Ian Dixin’s sound design compliments a full underscore from composer Jherek Bischoff.
For a 2.5-hour run time, the show flies past and the audience are quickly on the feet clapping. The entire cast is hard at work and they have made something very special.
It’s rightfully a 12+ show. It’s wonderfully scary. I found myself wincing through some of the gory and suspenseful moments. But adrenaline aside, it’s a touching story about friendship and fighting what’s inside of us.
One thing that The National has is a budget that allows them to take risks and push further. This show is innovative and I hope it’s a reference point for future adaptations of children’s literature.
If you missed the previous London runs, try to see it here at the New Wimbledon Theatre. Running here until Saturday 15th April.
Review: Nicole Botha.