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The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Joel Horwood’s adaptation brings Neil Gaiman’s 2013 bestselling novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane to life in this National Theatre transfer that brings together childhood nightmares and fantasies and adult disappointments and realities, writes Rosie O’Connell. 

Twisting the world of a child’s imagination, fuelled by a love of fantasy fiction, Katy Rudd’s direction brings enchantment and menace into the auditorium that is palpable throughout. The whole production suspends reality to a point of absolute childlike wonder that it really does feel like magic at certain times throughout. 

James Bamford (the Boy) and Penny Layden (Old Mrs Hempstock)

The story itself is relatively simple, our protagonist has just turned 12 and is facing the world friendless and motherless with only his irritating sister, detached father and Narnia for company. The suicide of the family’s debt-owing lodger triggers otherworldly activity, leading the boy to meet Lettie Hempstock, a mysterious girl from the local farm. From there we are introduced to Lettie’s mother and grandmother where we soon realise that the trio are not of this world and are able to manifest mystical powers and energy. The real monster, however, manages to infiltrate the boy’s family, leaving him running to find sanctuary wherever he can find it.

James Bamford and Nia Towle are fantastic as the Boy and Lettie, with Bamford encapsulating all the awkwardness and fear of being ‘a weirdo’ perfectly while Towle is electrifying as she flashes Lettie’s power and playfulness. 

The staging is really just pure magic with kitchens and bathrooms transforming into enchanted forests and torn umbrellas and ripped rags creating truly horrifying monsters, while a moment with puppets and silken cloths is beautiful and mesmerising.  A glorious mixture of Enid Blyton and Stranger Things, The Ocean at the End of the Lane manages to captivate audiences young and old, with deeper undertones and metaphors aplenty to pore over while perfectly performing as a fantasy story at the same time. 

It has been a long time since a performance so completely enthralled me and left me with a feeling of childlike wonder, and that is something quite rare and special.

Duke of York’s Theatre, 104 St Martin’s Lane, London, WC2N 4BG until 12th February. Times: Tues – Sat 7.30pm; Thur, Sat & Sun matinees 2.30pm. Admission: £20 – £95.


Photos: Manuel Harlan


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