Part of an extensive bibliography, Neil Gaiman’s 2013 novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane escaped adaptation until previews for this play began in December 2019. A successful West End run, and Olivier nominations, followed to culminate in a UK and Ireland tour. In bringing Gaiman’s famous imagination to life, friendship, storytelling, and family are central to an epic, magical tale of a childhood once forgotten and the darkness lurking at its edges.
Following the clearly creepy visuals of Henry Selick’s Coraline (2009) and the excellent chemistry between Michael Sheen’s Aziraphale and David Tennant’s Crowley in Good Omens (2019), The Ocean at the End of the Lane presents unique challenges to theatre makers. Director Katy Rudd, Adaptor Joel Horwood, and cast tackle fantastical and gritty elements with equal sincerity resulting in an evening of spectacle, relatability, and stunning visuals enhancing the original material.
Keir Ogilvy brings a sensitive and well-meaning 12-year-old boy to life. It is a difficult age at which to understand why, in the aftermath of his mother’s death, his Dad (Trevor Fox) burns the toast and brings in a lodger, forcing him to share a room with his energetic little sister (Laurie Ogden). All that before said lodger kills himself in the family car. Ogilvy keeps the boy grounded, but questioning and immovable whilst open-hearted as he discovers his wit and bravery along the way. Ogilby and Fox share many expertly gut-wrenching scenes ensuring the audience cannot look away for a second.
Millie Hikasa is a standout as Lettie Hempstock. This production emphasises Lettie’s mysterious complexities whilst keeping her immediately recognisable to all who know girls like her, want their girls to be like her, or are girls like her. Hikasa packs Lettie with undeniable charm, courage, creativity, and tenderness to provide a comforting presence throughout. Alongside Kemi-Bo Jacobs as Ginnie Hempstock and particularly Finty Williams as Old Mrs Hempstock, their clan sit as both the heart and levity of the show, gently guiding both boy and audience through darker, complex fantastical elements.
Charlie Brooks provides an effortless spine-chilling edge to this production as Ursula, both in her actions and the hard truths she perceives. Brooks and the tight, talented ensemble are at the central to the play’s more theatrical, fantastical elements but to describe them would be a spoiler. This production is perfect for fans of theatre magic and illusion using puppetry, movement, set, prop, and lighting design to truly elevate an already captivating performance.
It is unfortunately often the case that the soundtracks of straight plays fall under the radar, or are not utilised. However, Jherek Bischoff’s compositions and Ian Dickinson’s sound design ensured the soundtrack sat in equal measure with all other elements of this production. You will leave the theatre wanting to listen to this soundtrack as much as any musical production.
This production features theatrical narrative and design imaginative and beautiful in equal measure. There truly is something in this show for everyone, especially young and old. Particularly, anyone interested in the creation of captivating theatre design should not miss their chance to see this show!
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is playing at the Wales Millennium Centre from 30 May – 3 June 2023. More information on the show and how to book tickets here.