DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield

Reviewer: Ruth Jepson

Writer: Neil Gaiman
Adapter: Joel Horwood
Director: Katy Rudd

Are you ready for a night of monsters, magic and family secrets, set to a backdrop of books and childhood wonder? The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a classic Neil Gaiman premise, with portals to other worlds and the twisting of reality. An unnamed man returns home for his Father’s funeral (Trevor Fox playing both). He meets his old neighbour, Old Mrs Hempstock (Finty Williams), a witchy looking and sounding woman (who fantastically passes him a cup of tea from nowhere, the first sign of many small – and large – acts of sleight of hand magic pulled off by the actors). We then transition into his childhood (with Keir Ogilvy taking over the role) and hear of the time, aged 12, when he met Lettie (Millie Hikasa) and fought a monstrous flea, accidentally unleashing the slightly strange Ursula (Charlie Brooks) on his family and – oh yes – had his heart ripped out.

The plot is slightly confusing, and the halves could be weighted better, with some parts of the first act moved to the second to balance the action, but it is perfect visual stage fodder. LED enchanted trees give the stage a cage like feel; creepy stage crew come ensemble whisk set pieces on and off; a stage filling, multi-person puppet dominates its scene and its smaller colleagues wrap the atmosphere and action around them whenever they appear. Fly Davis’ (set) and Samuel Wyer’s (costume and puppet) design work is so beautiful and other worldly that for a second the audience are all 12 years old and scared of the monsters in the wood as well. Fabulous lighting from Paule Constable and brain filling soundscapes from Ian Dickinson complete the feel of being transported. For the tech and stage craft enthused, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a feast.

The acting is a little over the top to begin with, which is quite jarring on the ear and eye, but this quickly either settles or becomes more acceptable as the story takes each bizarre turn, because it all seems quite normal by the end of the first act. Hikasa’s Lettie is especially engaging to watch, and Ogilvy as Boy (our main character) does a wonderful job of showing childlike innocence. Fox’s Dad has an element of a Geordie Sean Locke about him, although his initial RP accent is a bit of a wanderer. And Brooks is absolutely amazing as Ursula, especially during the scene with the doors and the quick placement changes (although this trick is unfortunately repeated a little too often and it becomes rather obvious how it’s done). They are all outclassed by the ensemble however, whose sheer presence on stage is enough to get the audience gasping, and their heavily choreographed sections are a highlight of the piece (kudos to Movement Director Steven Hoggett).

Overall, The Ocean at the End of the Lane might not have the strongest plot, but it more than makes up for it in pure spectacle. Fans of Gaiman and newbies alike will definitely enjoy the show. A magical night out for adults and older children (content warning for a couple of scenes depicting child abuse).

Runs until Saturday 20 May 2023

The Reviews Hub Score

Magically Atmospheric

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The Reviews Hub - Yorkshire & North East

The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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