A mixture of fantasy, magic and fairy tale, Neil Gaiman’s book adapted by Joel Horwood, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, explores a long-forgotten childhood game of make-believe seen through the eyes of the man himself revisiting his old hometown and the farmhouse where he used to play. His then highly imaginative friend Lettie told him that the old pond is an ocean where everything is possible, but they must battle against dark forces that are threatening to destroy them.
All the stops are pulled out in this one to replicate the mystery of this underworld with its slightly frightening aspects, puppetry (never forget the National Theatre brought us the fabulous War Horse), illusions so subtle and with such deft sleight of hand that you might think them a product of your own fervid imagination, thunder claps and eerie lighting. Everybody loves to be scared, especially from a safe theatre seat.
Beyond the fantasy is an emotional story of a brother and sister and their widowed father struggling to bring them up alone. Keir Ogilvy is terrific as the lonely and insular boy, immersed in books he makes both his real life and the one he lives in his mind, believable. Laurie Ogden is great as the annoying little sister everybody has and Trevor Fox as the dad perfectly communicates the strain of trying to be both mother and father whilst keeping the family financially afloat.
The Hempstock family who have owned the farm since time immemorial are the nub of the story. Old Mrs Hempstock as she wishes to be known is the grandmother, played with forceful gravitas by Finty Williams is in charge, Kemi-Bo Jacobs plays her daughter Ginnie, and Millie Hikasa, Lettie her granddaughter. The resourceful and imperturbable Lettie, wise beyond her years is a big role to fill and it’s admirably done by Millie Hikasa.
Charlie Brooks has the most fun with the part of Ursula, the lodger taken into the family, who is not quite all she seems, and I will say no more for fear of spoiling the story. This is a great piece of theatre and one of the best translations from book to stage I’ve seen; the excellent cast, together with the clever set and lighting make a visually amazing experience. All I’m saying is that when I went home to bed the sight of my dressing gown hanging behind the bathroom door sent a small shiver down my spine……!