With its strong cast performance, amazing puppetry, and sumptuous staging, THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE is a masterclass in storytelling.
Imagine all the stories you read as a child; fairy tales, myths, Peter Pan and Narnia. Put them in a bag and shake them up, and you have the otherworldliness of THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE.
Adapted by Joel Horwood from Neil Gaiman’s fantasy novel, THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE is a tale of friendship and loss, memory and imagination, with some truly frightening moments accentuated by the spellbinding staging in this National Theatre production.
The story begins when we meet an adult Boy (Trevor Fox), returning to his childhood home for an unspecified funeral. During the visit, he relives his own past, specifically his 12th birthday, and the events that unfolded over the following few days. We are introduced to a childhood full of rigidity, sorrow and tension. In an oppressive household with little in the way of warmth with his widowed father (Trevor Fox) and sniping sister (Laurie Ogden), Boy’s search for friendship leads him to meet Lettie (Millie Hikasa), the girl from the neighbouring farm. Her family consists of mother (Kemi-Bo Jacobs) and grandmother (Finty Williams) who, although open and welcoming from the outset, are clearly not all they seem with hints to the muddying of time and shifting reality in their past.
Boy (Keir Ogilvy) is a bookworm who hides himself from reality between the pages of fantasy and myth but after witnessing a suicide, meeting Lettie and encountering some odd incidents, reality itself starts blurring for Boy. Accompanying Lettie on a fantastical endeavour, he soon has his own monster, played with menace by Charlie Brooks, to fight, as darkness seeps into his own family and his sense of normality, changing his childhood and his perceptions.
The staging by the National Theatre under the direction of Katy Rudd is sumptuous. The ensemble cast is outstanding in every role, and the conflict scenes especially convey fear and menace along with a very unsettling, heavily electronic score by Jherek Bischoff. Add to that some amazing puppetry, costumes and lighting and the visual dimension of the production adds to the uneasy ebb and flow of memory and the sense of danger that lurks within all fairytales.
The story is, like all good fairy tales, a battle between good and evil, but is also a story of belief, friendship, hope, the unknown and of sacrifice. The duck pond may be just a duck pond, but it could also be a portal to somewhere else. Here, everywhere and everything has an alternative existence, a road not travelled, an action not done, a memory lost.
THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE is a masterclass in storytelling. It is, at times, scary but also funny. It is dark in parts and then relatable in others, especially with regard to sibling dynamics. Above all, however, it is a visual treat. The dialogue and pace of the story flow easily, and not one scene is wasted. There are moments of laughter, witty asides and yet also some pretty uneasy forays into the darker side of fantasy. It is a perfect night out for those who like their fairy tales laced with stranger things.