‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ review – Neil Gaiman’s fairytale is thrilling theatrical fantasy

Whether they be real or otherworldly, this adaptation captures the spark of stories and adventures – ★★★★★

This mesmerising myth stands proudly alongside The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child as another breathtaking remake of a best-selling novel. Yet, when looking at the company involved in this production, this is not surprising.

Cursed Child’s Samuel Blenkin stars as the unnamed Boy who is troubled by a series of supernatural events, playing the role with a hilarious and frantic panic at the state of affairs not too dissimilar from his performance as Scorpius. Guided by shadowy figures, he glides across the set in tight and impressive choreography, directed by Steven Hoggett (co-founder of Frantic Assembly, the team behind The Curious Incident‘s astonishing movement direction).

When it comes to the story, the Boy has his hand held by his friendly neighbourhood Lettie Hempstock (Marli Siu). It’s when he lets go that this story, both literally and metaphorically, becomes all the more interesting and magical. In a symbolic sense, we see a poignant journey from childhood to adulthood and an evolving father-son relationship. This idea is curiously explored by director Katy Rudd, by having the Boy’s father (Enduring Love‘s Justin Salinger) playing an older, grown-up version of the protagonist. However, it’s Dad’s struggle as a single parent – an intriguing and sensible change from Gaiman’s work – which sees Salinger emphasise this further through a truly moving performance.

Then there’s the more fantastical and eery side of what happens when the Boy lets go of Lettie’s hand, such as the arrival of a witch-like nanny (no, not that one), played by Pippa Nixon in a way which jolts from feigned enthusiasm to something quite unsettling. A scene involving several doors is not only one of many nods to The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, but an impressive feat of misdirection from illusions designer Jamie Harrison. There’s a lot more to admire in this production, including some profound puppetry from Finn Caldwell and Samuel Wyer. Although, it is perhaps symptomatic of the show’s magic that describing them in detail ruins the surprise, and that it is one which has to be seen to be believed.

Whether it’s the fact that these tricks have a straightforward solution, or the aforementioned, poignant themes of growing up and friendship at its heart, there’s a striking simplicity to Rudd and adapter Joel Horwood’s work. To quote Lettie Hempstock, “it is what it is”, and it – The Ocean at the End of The Lane – is nothing short of spectacular.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is now playing at the Dorfman Theatre until 25 January.

Production Images: Manuel Harlan.

Disclaimer: I was invited to watch The Ocean at the End of the Lane for free in exchange for a review of the performance as a member of the press. I did not receive payment for this review and all opinions stated are honest and my own.

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