The Ocean at the End of the Lane, National Theatre review ★★★★★
Voted the 2013 Book of the Year in the National Book Awards, Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane tells the tale of a boy whose ordinary life encounters the extraordinary. Adapted for the stage by Joel Horwood, this dark fantasy plunges deep into a story about memory, imagination, and growing up. Katy Rudd’s direction exemplifies the themes found in Gaiman’s novel, creating a stunning, high-octane display of riveting puppetry, powerful performances, and real magic.
An unnamed Boy, played by Samuel Blenkin, is a voracious bookworm without many friends. When the lodger living in his house steals his dad’s car and kills himself, strange coins begin appearing. The Boy befriends Lettie Hempstock (Marli Siu), a young girl from Hempstock farm, and glimpses the immense, unexplainable world outside his own. Gaiman’s narrator is the Boy as an adult who, while returning for his father’s funeral, encounters Lettie’s grandmother Old Mrs Hempstock (Josie Walker) and recollects his past.
Tangled branches frame the stage and moss-covered benches lift mysteriously from the stage, evoking this twisted, uncanny, and sometimes sinister world. Fly Davis’s set design is superb, particularly with the homey, warm, and antique-filled dwelling of the Hempstock farm. But it’s the ensemble-driven movement, with stunning costuming and puppetry, that create the most supernatural moments. Samuel Wyer and Finn Caldwell’s puppetry design and direction are to be praised, especially in creating the contorted and terrifying flea living at the edges of the world.
This flea writhes itself into the Boy’s home and becomes Ursula, a wicked woman who can read the Boy’s mind. Pippa Nixon’s Ursula almost steals the show, chillingly cheerful and undeniably evil. And the moments of magic, directed by Jamie Harrison, as she locks Blenkin in his room, are truly hair-rising.
Occasionally the movement sequences feel overstretched, and the climax loses visual clarity as Blenkin and Siu find the value in their friendship. And yet even so, it’s hard not to be immersed by The Ocean at the End of the Lane.
|What||The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Duke of York's Theatre|
|Where||Duke of York's Theatre, St Martin's Lane, London, WC2N 4BG | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Waterloo (underground)|
23 Oct 21 – 24 Apr 22, 7:30 PM – 10:00 PM
|Price||£15 - £65|
|Website||Click here for more info and to book|