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Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Tour)

★★★★★

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a monstrous masterclass in theatrical storytelling.


Photo by Brinkhoff-Moegenburg


Neil Gaiman’s hit novel has been intricately, yet epically, adapted for the stage by Joel Horwood. Under Katy Rudd's direction the story of a “flea” crossing worlds and entering the life of an every day family becomes a psychological horror but with magic to behold.


We meet Dad (Trevor Fox) who has been cast adrift since the loss of his wife. His lodger has committed suicide over money woes and his 12 year old son, Boy (Daniel Cornish), has found him at the edge of a farm. The landowners - Old Mrs Hempstock (Finty Williams), Ginnie Hempstock (Kemi-Bo Jacobs) and Lettie Hempstock (Millie Hikasa) carefully introduce the boy to the wonders of their secret world as they sense what the incident has awoken.


Their journey to fix the disconnect is beautiful and tragic, asking questions about identity and how we will be remembered. Gaiman’s book is clever in a sly way, the lessons designed to settle under your skin.


Hikasa plays Lettie whole-heartedly. As an inquisitive, brave character she stomps around propelled by the excitement of what really makes you, you. Her performance is beautifully humble and neither that or the moral of Lettie is easily forgotten. Beside her Boy is a lonely bookworm lost in grief and anxiety. Cornish's role is unforgiving and torturous to watch due to its physical demands, emotional vulnerability and wordy monologues - all are delivered with aplomb. Together the pair take on the parasitic Skarthach (a devilish Charlie Brooks who gives a menacing performance with a painted on smile) desperate to fit in to this world by manipulating itself as new lodger, Ursula.


Photo by Brinkhoff-Moegenburg


It’s a relentless production with the main cast and the ensemble commandeering every inch of the space - Steven Hoggett directs movement that not only is given time to swell and grow, but also great intimacy. The tight ensemble blend their bodies together to forge a gigantic flea, menacing with pinchers and razor sharp words, and transform the stage into a vast ocean with caressing waves. They wordlessly move props on to the stage, waiting for permission 'are you staying for breakfast?' before placing them - it's slick.


The Ocean at the End of the Lane is peppered with trickery and illusions (designed and directed by Jamie Harrison). Among clever costume changes and slight of hand, one particular standout involved an assortment of white doors and a certain blonde in kitten heels tormenting with her sporadic appearance. Harrison's designs are glorifying and often gory, with nods to influences from cult horror to fantasy.


The sterile design (by Fly Davis) of a modest 80s suburban home contrasts with the cosy warmth of the farmhouse. Paule Constable's light design is a triumph and casts warm glows of yellow, golds and pinks that blend with smoke.

Ian Dickinson's sound could be considered a character itself. It’s truly paralysing. A frenetic mix of pulsing bass envelops the entire production. It’s almost demonic and heightens an all-consuming audience experience that controls your senses.


In balance, there are moments of unrequited joy that add light to The Ocean at the End of the Lane. The climax is poignantly emotive and executed with time to process and reflect. As the head of the family, Williams' Old Mrs Hempstock is wise and sprightly. Laurie Ogden brings familiarity as the bratty younger sibling whose pout encourages laughter. However it’s Trevor Fox's turn as the dad that is affecting. Ranging from goofball “dad” behaviour to terrifying tempers, the character is untrustworthy but trying.


Photo by Brinkhoff-Moegenburg


The Ocean at the End of the Lane is multi-sensory magic that manages to put you on high alert yet immerse completely. It’s immense.


Plays at Curve before continuing on tour.

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