Noël Coward Theatre (venue)
11 October 2023 (released)
14 October 2023
It’s not often you go to the theatre to watch children battling with shapeshifting creatures from ‘the other side.’ Most probably because it’s more affective on screen. But Katy Rudd’s production of Neil Gaiman’s novel manages to create the extra-terrestrial thrill through stunning puppetry, deafening sound and a dose of stage magic. All this without losing sight of a quiet story about memory, loss and survival.
The lights come up in forest clearing where a tired looking man is revisiting his childhood home. Old Mrs Hempstock (Finty Williams) with long white hair and ancient robes greets him with a gentle warning; ‘you never get two people remember two things the same,’ before we are swiftly transported back to his childhood kitchen.
Trevor Fox playing the unnamed man now becomes his frazzled father, burning the toast at breakfast while Keir Ogilvy plays our troubled protagonist as a boy. The lodger who has moved in after his mother’s death has just killed himself in the family car and his younger sister is incredibly annoying. To escape the domestic nightmare, he wanders down the lane towards a local farm and meets the irrepressible Lettie Hemsworth. So begins his contact with ‘the other side’…
The female characters are the strength and drive, the good and the evil of the drama. The Hempstock matriarchy who have been inhabiting the local farm for centuries rescue our boy from total obliteration when his family is falling apart and Charlie Brooks plays a deliciously cloying Ursula, who enters the land of the living through a wound in the boys hand. I won’t spoil the moment she appears in the bathroom.
Imagination is the real hero of this story as we are reminded, ‘every invention was dreamed into existence’ and ‘nothing really looks like what it is anyway’, The greatest power the women have when the boy ‘Ripped a hole in forever’ was to ‘snip and snitch’ so that it becomes more bearable.
Whether it’s a story about buried memories or extra-terrestrial happenings, ‘The Ocean at the end of the Lane’ is a dark and inventive family treat that will appeal to tweens upwards with its pounding bass and touching family drama.