Oct 18th, 2023
An Ocean of Emotion at the End of Gaiman's Lane
A boy, his newfound friend, and a hefty dose of magic and horror. On the surface that may be all that the show seems to be, but Ocean at the End of the Lane has such unfathomable depths that it will leave even the most stout-hearted of us emotional. Whilst the show is both whimsical and terrifying (everyone jumped out of their seats at one point or another) by the end there was barely a dry eye left in the house.
Neil Gaiman penned the short story in 2013 as a gift for his wife, telling her of where he grew up and the characters he created as a child. Inspirations are drawn from his youth to create this fantastical tale.
The unnamed Boy is the protagonist of the story, a child who finds solace in books against an unwelcoming world where he struggles to fit in amongst his peers. After a tragic event involving the family's Mini and their lodger, the Boy stumbles across Lettie Hempstock, a charming and quirky young girl who takes him home to the Hempstock farmhouse, where her mother and grandmother reside. Ginny and Old Mrs Hempstock are women cut from the same cloth, both having an ethereal oddness that suggests there is more to them than meets the eye. Are they witches? Wise women? Or are they perhaps personifications of a certain Triple Goddess... They transcend space and time, altering the fabric of reality and guarding the boundaries against those who seek to destroy it, occasionally diving into quantum mechanics as they do so.
Lettie takes the Boy on a quest under the proviso that he never let go of her hand, as who knows what dangers await him without her protection. The mission goes awry, and unbeknownst to the Hempstocks, an entity crosses over the boundary into our world. This being, played by the sinister yet charming Charlie Brooks, invades the home and life of the Boy and his family, causing more than just supernatural horror to occur.
Going into Ocean at the End of the Lane, I had no idea what awaited me. When I saw Jamie Harrison listed in the programme as Magic and Illusions Director and Designer, my first reaction was surprise, not expecting anything of the sort. Harrison's expertise is undeniably evident in the show, as it features jaw-dropping illusions and some things that I still don't understand. Doors appeared and multiplied, whirling around on the stage, hands appeared from nowhere and people suddenly reappeared on the opposite side of the stage. The ensemble choreography, created by movement director Steven Hoggett is just as breathtaking, whether they were antagonists, observers, or changing the sets so fluidly and beautifully that for a second you'd think you were watching a ballet. I found myself subconsciously moving along with them as they dipped and weaved across the stage. The monsters similarly benefitted from such movements, changing their forms as they prowled menacingly towards Lettie and the Boy with an energy that was almost that of a cat toying with a mouse before its untimely demise.
Kier Ogilvy shines as the Boy, capturing the perfect combination of adolescent frustration and genuine fear at the monster he inadvertently brings home, while Millie Hikasa's stunning portrayal of the dedicated Lettie leaves you wishing you had a friend like her when you were young.
Perhaps Gaiman is channeling some of his younger self into this shy, awkward yet brilliant boy, perhaps not, but I know that his character resonated deeply with my own uneasy childhood self. Underlying the narrative is the knowledge that stories save lives, whether it be reciting CS Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia to occupy your thoughts, or as an escape from the emotional trials of the real world.
Together, Director Katy Rudd and playwright Joel Horwood have created a complex and heartbreaking show that even brought the self-confessed distrusting of emotions Gamain to tears.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a singular piece of work, and if you see anything in the theatre this autumn, I implore you to make it this one.
View our show pages for more information about The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Noel Coward Theatre.
Noel Coward Theatre: Closed Nov 25, 2023
Described as a mesmerizing piece of theatrical magic, Katy Rudd and Joel Horwood's adaptation of Neil Gaiman's 2013 novel returns to the West End to cast its spell over the Noel Coward Theatre this autumn....more info
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