By: Sara Lamerton, TRP Reviewer
National Theatre’s much anticipated stage adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane opened last night at TRP. Adapted by Joel Horwood and directed by Katy Rudd, the five-star show, greeted by a packed theatre, has some big shoes to fill following in the footsteps of giant productions such as War Horse and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
As a fan of Neil Gaiman’s work, having loved the TV adaptations of both Good Omen’s and The Sandman, I was especially excited to watch The Ocean at the End of the Lane to see how the fantastical worlds Gaiman creates translate on to the stage. Let me tell you straight off the bat, I wasn’t disappointed. Quite the opposite, in fact. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, having received critical acclaim could’ve easily seemed over-hyped, but it wasn’t. It was simply stunning, on many levels.
We follow a young boy, called Boy (Kier Ogilvy), a year after his mother’s death. He lives with his struggling father, Dad (Trevor Fox), and typically antagonistic younger sister, Sis (Laurie Ogden). Boy befriends the magically odd Lettie (Millie Hikasa), her mother, Ginnie (Kemi-Bo Jacobs) and grandmother, Old Mrs Hempstock (Finty Williams) before the pair head off on an adventure Boy could only have dreamt about in the fantasy books he loses himself in.
Yet, it’s not long before they encounter a villain in the form of a ‘flea’ called Skarthach; who, once Boy unsuspectingly lets it in, burrows a hole straight through his heart into the mortal realm. Taking on a human form, Ursula (Charlie Brooks) nests in his home, quickly plunging her hooks firmly into Sis and Dad. Home should be a safe space, yet it’s infected. Not only by the weight of all the things unsaid and the gaping hole left by those no longer present, but now by the ‘flea’ that’s burrowed into their lives, taking control and causing a wider, more chaotic rift to flow. Now Boy and Lettie must figure out how to banish Ursula back to her realm and heal Boy’s heart once and for all.
Aside from the main characters, notably there’s also the play’s ensemble. Although nameless and, much of the time faceless, they’re certainly unmissable. Collectively, they co-create some of the most memorable, awe-inspiring scenes of the entire show: shadowy figures lurking in the background, binding together to form the unseen world. In particular, as they share space with Lettie the beat-perfect choreography leaves your blood pumping faster and with every giant claw scratching and lurching out from the dark, you’re left in awe at the magic unfolding before your eyes.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, full of heart and soul, is a transcending tale of love, loyalty, friendship and sacrifice. Simply put, I have never seen anything like it before. And perhaps never will again.
Vibrant, ethereal, visually stunning and, at times, disorientating, The Ocean at the End of the Lane asks big questions and deals with complex issues about our existence in this worldly form and beyond; all in an accessible, escapist manner that appeals to our inner child. It dives into family dynamics, generational divides and unspoken expectations. Ultimately, however, the underlying message is one of transcendent love.
I certainly wasn’t the only one mesmerised by the uniqueness of The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Every conversation I overheard during both the interval and at the end of the show were people discussing simply how amazing it was, and that’s really no exaggeration. It’s a must see, one of a kind production that lives up to the hype, leaving you richer than when you entered.