Ocean Fantasy Plummeting Darkest Depths
The cast of The Ocean at the End of the Lane.
Death permeates the National Theatre’s critically acclaimed production of The Ocean at the End of the Lane.
Throughout its duration I was terrified, challenged, and confounded about reality versus imagination.
The provocative portrayal of childhood loneliness based on Neil Gaiman’s best-selling novel is equally exhilarating and emotionally exhausting.
Its ‘normal’ beginning where a man returning home for his father’s funeral finds himself beside a pond at an old Sussex farmhouse where he played as a child - is deceptive.
Transported back to his 12th birthday, Boy (he is nameless) and his exceptional friend, Lettie Hempstock are drawn to the pond which is transformed into an ocean of infinite possibilities.
Millie Hikasa Lettie Keir Ogilvy
Naively expecting the duo to embark on a voyage of future hopes, dreams, and aspirations, we were plunged into an abyss of darkness in which Boy and Lettie battle for survival.
They are precariously positioned on the edge of the pond, confronted by the darkest, most ancient forces imaginable on the other side.
The demons are also inside Boy’s family home, and include a devious monster disguised as beguiling blonde lodger, Ursula, who woos boy’s Dad and Sis by inveigling her way into their hearts.
A lonely widower clearly struggling to bring up his son and daughter, Dad is bewitched while Boy sees through her from the outset, calling her ‘Evil’.
Laurie-Ogden Sis, Charlie Brooks Ursula and Trevor Fox Dad
Ursula’s cruelty and divisive plotting see her locking Boy in his bedroom – there is no escaping her presence and wickedness.
As tension mounts following her arrival, what I found most distressing was the gratuitous violence of Dad towards Boy – submerging his head in the bath – was this really necessary?
Outside the home on the edge of the ocean (pond) the horrors for Boy and Lettie escalate.
Keir-Ogilvy as Boy & Millie Hikasa as Lettie and the cast of The Ocean at the End of the Lane.
In one hideous example, Boy pulls out from his skin a long, revolting, blood drenched worm, symbolising how Ursula has travelled from one world to another through his heart.
I wondered if this was redolent of the stark truth of human behaviour and the irony of the expression ‘worming your way into someone’s heart’?
Other examples see black monstrosities doing their worst to drag Boy out of his circle of light and absorbed into their darkness forever. Against the odds, his guardian angel and saviour, Lettie, who bequeaths him the ultimate sacrifice, prevents it from happening.
Millie Hikasa Lettie and Keir Ogilvy
The blood curdling cries and eerie sounds accompanying the children’s nightmare battle for survival are as haunting as the superb visual effects.
The theme ‘nothing is as it seems’ was present at every twist and turn. The adage that money is the root of all evil, with avarice becoming all-consuming and changing human behaviour for the worst was also thrown into the mix.
Hats off to powerful performances from Keir Ogilvy as Boy, Millie Hikasa as Lettie Hempstock, Charlie Brooks (Janine Butcher in EastEnders) as Ursula, Trevor Fox, Boy’s Dad, Laurie Ogden, Boy’s Sis, and Kemi-Bo Jacobs, Lettie’s Mother.
Special mention goes to Finty Williams, daughter of Judi Dench, whose credits include Gosford Park, The Importance of Being Ernest
who played Lettie’s grandmother Old Mrs Hempstock whose knowledge, wisdom, and pragmatism grounded the plot.
Finty-Williams, Old Mrs Hempstock in The Ocean at the End of the Lane.
Superbly adapted from Neil Gaiman’s novel by Joel Horwood with top class direction by Katy Rudd, set designer Fly Davis and costume and puppet designer Samuel Wyer are also to be applauded – the entire on and off-stage production is bursting with talent.
On reflection, its unique and bizarre nature open up a multiplicity of interpretations.
My expected nightmares of its relentless horror and darkness thankfully did not manifest themselves. However, I do think a 16+ rating is required.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane leaves me with a disquieting sense of how we live daily on the edge of the Ocean.
Whether we cross the other side to descend its murky depths - or live as good a life as we can on its precarious edge - is entirely our choice.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane
plays Newcastle Theatre Royal until Sat 22 Jul 2023.
Tickets can be purchased at www.theatreroyal.co.uk
or from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 0191 232 7010.