Author Neil Gaiman‘s work has been successfully brought to both the big screen (with the animation Coraline) and the small screen (Good Omens) and now this Joel Horwood adaptation of his fantasy novel of the same name arrives on the huge Lyric stage at the Lowry.
This National Theatre production starts out fully rooted in grim reality when a middle-aged man returns to the location of his upbringing for his father’s funeral. While escaping to find some solitude he stumbles across an old lady that he first met on his 12th birthday. We then see this boy walking through the woods, discovering his dad’s stolen car and a dead body in the driver’s seat. Forced by his father to leave the area he meets a girl, Lettie Hempstock, and they become instant friends. The boy struggles with friends at school, preferring to spend his time reading fantasy novels such as The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and Alice in Wonderland. The themes of these books cross-over into this play with the idea of there being a mundane gateway between worlds. In this instance, it is a duck pond (or ocean as Lettie calls it).
Embarking on adventures in the forest Lettie and the boy manage to allow an evil creature to come to this world. Charlie Brooks, best known for playing EastEnders schemer, Janine Butcher, is wonderfully cast as Ursula, the witch/new tenant from another dimension. She manages to be generous, fun and sweet in front of the dad and his daughter (Laurie Ogden) yet mean and scary when alone with the boy. Both Kier Ogilvy (the boy) and Millie Hikasa (Lettie) make convincing innocent children having to deal with uncertainty, peril and change.
This thought-provoking spectacular show gives us many conundrums to consider. How do we determine who we are? Can our face really define us when it changes over time? Did these events really happen like this or are the children using their imagination to battle their grief? Did we really enjoy eating Pop-Tarts in the 1980’s?
Trevor Fox plays the dad struggling to come to terms with the loss of his wife and how he is managing to bring up his children when he can’t manage to keep track of his neck ties or make toast without burning it. His affable performance suddenly turns chilling in a bathroom scene.
The rest of the cast are also on form with the powerful presence of Flinty Williams grabbing everyone’s attention as Old Mrs Hempstock and Kemi-Bo Jacobs bringing emotional depth to Ginnie Hempstock.
Jarring and intense sound and music composed by Jherek Bischoff combined with the impressive woodland set and gigantic puppets make this show an immersive experience. The slick direction by Katy Rudd has the show moving along at a great pace and her inclusion of some clever magic tricks keeps the audience captivated throughout. This is an extraordinary event and I thoroughly recommend you dive into this ocean.
The National Theatre’s production of The Ocean at the End of the Lane is at The Lowry, Salford from 12 December 2022 to 8 January 2023. Age guidance 12+.