Writer: Neil Gaiman
Adaptor: Joel Horwood
Director: Katy Rudd
Adapted for the National Theatre stage by Joel Horwood, The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (best-selling author of Coraline, Good Omens and The Sandman) is an epic, thrilling adventure of mythical fantasy, with some truly mesmerising staging from Katy Rudd.
The plot plunges 12-year-old bookworm, Boy, (convincingly played by Keir Ogilvy) into a magical world, along with his new companion, an effervescent Millie Hikasa as Lettie, where their survival hangs on their powers to fight against magical, ancient forces threatening to destroy everything around them.
Rudd’s direction combines impressive illusions, ensemble-led physical theatre and carefully crafted characters, culminating in a tour-de-force of theatrical storytelling that takes the audiences into a twisted fairy-tale world of good vs evil. It’s very Narnia meets Labyrinth (thanks to its electronic, synth-y Stranger-things-esque score by Jherek Bischoff) with a bit of Bridge to Terabithia mixed with a bit of Old Vic’s A Monster Calls.
Charlie Brooks as Ursula/Skarthach is just plain weird… in the best way possible! Her performance is electrically charged from the offset, and you can tell she loves playing this role. She fizzes with playful baddy energy, that bubbles into a real menacing malevolence. When she (finally) appears halfway through the first act as Ursula, the show really shifts gears, (after taking a while to set up its premise) and it is here that we start to get the juice of the story. Brooks commands the stage oozing theatrical prowess, and not just when she is suspended in mid-air, menacing as the nightmarish Skarthach, but also when she is firmly planted with powerful gravitas as wicked lodger, Ursula. Her physicality convinces us that she is a demonic force of evil disguised in human form and her interpretation makes this villain the perfect concoction of dark magic and twisted manipulation.
A stand-out performance comes from Trevor Fox as Dad. He maintains a level of authenticity in a world of heightened characters, always remaining totally buyable as a grief-stricken Dad, just doing his best. A dynamic, engaging performance, striking a balance of warmth and darkness, that beautifully captures this character’s conflict. A great casting choice by Naomi Downham.
The success of this production is down to the culmination of its departments’ collaborative efforts; Steven Hoggett’s ensemble of physical storytellers aiding the narrative; the earthy, otherworldly set design that provides a forage of visual splendour from Fly Davis; awe-inspiring puppetry sequences from Samuel Wyer and Finn Caldwell (a spectacle moment being the gargantuan flea monster) and not forgetting some exquisitely crafted illusion sequences led by Brooks, directed and designed by Jamie Harrison.
Overall, this production is a theatrical feast for the senses and a testament to how theatre can transport you to other worlds. There are moments of real darkness intertwined with purely captivating magic.
Runs Until 8 January 2023 and on tour