The Ocean at the End of the Lane review

★★★★★

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The stage adaptation of bestselling novel ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ is based in Canterbury this week, after receiving countless 5-star reviews during its UK tour thus far. Yesterday evening I was invited to review the show at the Marlowe Theatre’s press night and despite not being familiar with Neil Gaiman’s story, I could not pass up the opportunity to find out why the theatre world is raving about this particular play.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane poster outside The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

Background and themes

Adapted for the stage by Joel Horwood and directed by Katy Rudd, the National Theatre production brings the popular book to life, letting imaginations run wild for 2 hours 30 minutes of runtime (excluding an interval). Toying with themes of fantasy, childhood, good and evil, the play takes audiences on a wild adventure, turning the stage into a mysterious location on the edge of the world as we know it, where unbelievable things can happen.

Even though the show covers events that the fictional figure ‘Boy’ experienced in their childhood, the material is not recommended for children under the age of 12 due to its intense special effects, potentially frightening content and harrowing themes. For a full list of trigger warnings, please head to the theatre’s website directly.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane programme in front of the Marlowe Theatre stage, Canterbury

Tension, drama and special effects

During the first section of the production there is a large amount of dialogue between the main characters and this is where we are introduced to Boy’s family, the Hempstocks and the ‘ocean’ (pond) at the end of the lane. Going into the performance with high expectations, at first I found the pacing quite slow and couldn’t work out the direction of the story or the significance of the characters. I had little to fear though as the action suddenly accelerated out of nowhere, along with the staging and special effects and taking us into uncharted territory in terms of what is possible on a theatrical stage. The emotions that I experienced ranged from surprised to mesmerised, so much so that I spent the majority of the interval wondering where the spectacular show would go next.

Mille Hikasa (Lettie) and Daniel Cornish (Alternate Boy) in The Ocean at the End of the Lane.
© Pamela Raith

Illusion on stage

Jamie Harrison (Bedknobs and Broomsticks) is the mastermind behind the magic and illusions within The Ocean at the End of the Lane and his ability to make you both jump in your seat and want to know every detail about the ins and outs of the production, is proof of how captivating the illusions are within the show. Alongside lighting designer Paule Constable and sound designer Ian Dickinson, Harrison has managed to make the audience believe the impossible and consequently provide a teaser of where touring theatre could possibly go in the future. Pyrotechnics, sound and blackouts are used to build tension within the show, in conjunction with Fly Davis’ haunting forest set design and Samuel Wyer’s costumes.

Millie Hikasa (Lettie) and Daniel Cornish (Alternate Boy) in The Ocean at the End of the Lane
© Pamela Raith

Standout performances

The emotionally and physically demanding role of Boy is played magnificently by Daniel Cornish (Alternate Boy). The actor is on stage for the majority of the runtime and their energy levels and charisma never falter. Cornish also has an infectious relationship on stage with Lettie (Millie Hikasa), which blossoms throughout the show. Their friendship feels so pure and true.

Charlie Brooks is utterly terrifying as Ursula. Her intentionally distressing performance combined with the impressive special effects makes you feel as if you have been immersed in a fantasy world, despite never having left your auditorium seat.

A final mention goes to the ensemble. Movement director Steven Hoggett and the ensemble are responsible for the innovative scene transitions that blur the lines between what is real and what is not. Their movements are extremely fluid and help the story to progress, in contrast to the jumpy nature of the overall play. They are a credit to the company.

Charlie Brooks (Ursula) and Laurie Ogden (Sis) in The Ocean at the End of the Lane
© Pamela Raith

Final thoughts

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is by far my favourite play that I have seen this year. I have never anticipated a second act as much as I did in this performance. The National Theatre have completely outdone themselves with this imaginative and dramatic stage adaptation. I lost track of the number of times that I wanted to cry wow, from my auditorium seat.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane programme outside The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

What’s next for the play

This powerful piece of theatre is playing at The Marlowe Theatre until Saturday, before continuing its tour across the UK. In October the production will move to the Noël Coward Theatre for 7 weeks, bringing the National Theatre’s jaw dropping special effects to the West End. Last minute tickets for the Canterbury run can be purchased via The Marlowe Theatre’s website.

Thanks for reading my blog today.

Love Kat xxxx

*My ticket and programme for The Ocean At The End Of The Lane was gifted in exchange for a review.

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