The Ocean at the End of the Lane – The Alexandra, Birmingham

Reviewer: Skylar Mabry

Writer: Neil Gaiman

Adapter: Joel Horwood

Director: Katy Rudd

Thrilling and mysterious, this National Theatre tour of The Ocean at the End of the Lane does not disappoint. With an incredible set, brilliant sound design, and strong ensemble, Neil Gaiman’s novel has been adapted into an outstanding play by Joel Horwood and brought to life fantastically by Katy Rudd.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is the story of a young boy (Keir Ogilvy) fighting against unspeakable evil with the help of stories in books and the friendship of a girl with the wisdom of 1000 years (Millie Hikasa). This touching pair battle horrific monsters, traverse dangerous and beautiful worlds, and create magic.

The show has the National’s recognisable style, as the ensemble move through air that seems to suspend them in time. Throughout the play, the cast work together expertly to create an underlying unsettling feeling and to bring the more terrifying scenes and monsters to life. Composer Jherek Bischoff and sound designer Ian Dickinson have created an ominous sound world that accentuates the mystery and danger of the story. Fly Davis’ elegantly simple set design is surprisingly adaptable and works in partnership with the rest of the elements to tie everything together. The icing on the cake is the puppetry and costume design by Samuel Wyer. The play is filled with lovely small touches and clear thematic choices – Rudd has done an excellent job to pull everything together.

Neil Gaiman’s story comes from his own childhood, from the idea of a farm family having existed since the writing of the Domesday Book, from the magic that can come from everyday items, and from holding hands and not letting go. This stage adaptation brings Gaiman’s writing to life, making his lovable characters more endearing (Finty Williams’ Old Mrs. Hempstock gets special recognition for her wit and wisdom), his moments of horror more frightening, and his villains more evil.

At every step, the audience are encouraged to look at things not for what they appear to be, but for what they are on the inside. Lettie – the girl from the Hempstock farm – remarks about adults: “on the outside they’re big and thoughtless, but on the inside, they look the same as they always have.” And even though the monsters and events of the play are scary, what stands out is the magic of Lettie’s ocean, which appears to be a duck pond on the outside but contains magical truth on the inside.

There is a romance and excitement to this story which captures the attention (even that of the whispering students in the audience) and makes for an unforgettable piece. From terror to exhilaration to hilarity to love, The Ocean at the End of the Lane reminds us what it’s like to be a child, facing fear and loss with all the determination of our favourite characters in books. However, it leaves us with the reminder that all of us are still those same people on the inside, no matter what the outside may show.

Runs until: 27 May 2023 and on tour

The Reviews Hub Score

magical thriller

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The Reviews Hub - Central

The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. 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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