REVIEW: The Ocean At The End Of The Lane (New Wimbledon Theatre) ★★★★★

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane made its world premiere at the National Theatre in 2019. Based on the novel by Neil Gaiman and adapted for the stage by Joel Horwood, the production was an instant success receiving three Olivier Awards nominations for Best New Play, Best Actress in a Supporting Role and Best Lighting. The play was then due to transfer to the Duke of York’s Theatre in the West End in 2020, however COVID stepped in and the show opened later than planned in 2021 running until mid-2022. Hot on the heels of the West End run, a UK and Ireland Tour was mounted beginning in December 2022. Stopping at the New Wimbledon Theatre, London audiences have another chance to marvel at Gaiman’s “fantastic fiction” and step inside this engrossing critically-acclaimed production once more.

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane revolves around Boy, as he returns to his childhood home and finds himself standing beside the pond of the old Sussex farmhouse where he used to play. He’s transported to his 12th birthday when his remarkable friend Lettie claimed it wasn’t a pond, but an ocean – a place where everything is possible. Plunged into a magical world, their survival depends on their ability to reckon with ancient forces that threaten to destroy everything around them. This play marks the first major stage adaptation of a Neil Gaiman work and blends magic with memory in a tour-de-force of storytelling that takes audiences on an epic journey to a childhood once forgotten and the darkness that lurks at the very edge of it.

Under the masterful direction of Katy Rudd, the touring production features Keir Ogilvy (Restless Natives, No Future) as Boy, Finty Williams (Twelfth Night, The Key Workers Cycle, The Chalk Garden) as Old Mrs Hempstock, Trevor Fox (Macbeth, Billy Elliot, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) as Dad, Charlie Brooks (All in a Row, Beautiful Thing, EastEnders) as Ursula, Millie Hikasa (Jack Absolute Flies Again, Another F***ing Play About Race, Macbeth) as Lettie Hempstock, Kemi-Bo Jacobs (The Winter’s, All My Sons, Wild East) as Ginnie Hempstock, Laurie Ogden (To Kill a Mockingbird, Victoria’s Knickers, Consensual) as Sis. They’re supported by an amazing ensemble including Ronnie Lee (The Laramie Project, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child), Paolo Guidi (Touch), Domonic Ramsden (War Horse, Aladdin, Snow White), Aimee McGoldrick (A Walk is Not Just a Walk, No Tits & Plenty of Troubles) with understudies Emma-Jane Goodwin (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time), Lewis Howard (War Horse, Cider With Rosie), Jasmeen James (Jekyll and Hyde, A Christmas Carol), Joe Rawlinson-Hunt (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time), Risha Silvera (Black Women Dating White Men, Jack Frost).

As Boy, Keir Ogilvy delivers a breathtaking performance. Barely leaving the stage throughout the play, Ogilvy skillfully manages Boy’s fragility while balancing his spritely innocence and wonder. As the villainess Ursula, Charlie Brooks looks like she’s having a lot of fun. With the aid of some very clever staging and special effects, Brook’s Ursula transforms in front of the audience from ill-mannered lodger to the scariest flea you’ve ever seen. Trevor Fox as Dad expertly portrays a heart-broken man grappling with the loss of his wife and his own temper, while Laurie Ogden as Sis channels her inner younger sibling to give Boy a run for his money. Millie Hikasa, Finty Williams and Kemi-Bo Jacobs bring the Hempstock clan to life with expert physicality and quirky characteristics. With a lively onstage presence, Millie Hikasa is especially memorable as Boy’s best friend (and owner of the Ocean) Lettie Hempstock. She excellently marries Lottie’s complicated soul with the wonder and innocence of a child to beautifully portray the youngest Hempstock. The ensemble work together transforming into magical imps. Often moving furniture around the stage, becoming magical objects and the terrifying Hunger Birds, the ensemble do wonders in bringing the world(s) of the play to life.

Like Neil Gaiman’s other works (Stardust, Coraline, Sandman and American Gods), The Ocean At The End Of The Lane requires an all-encompassing design to draw the audience into his fantastical worlds. Luckily, the creative team have worked miracles in making Ocean come alive on stage. Fly Davis’s set design is simple, but extremely effective which allows Jamie Harrison’s magic and Illusions to shine. Ian Dickinson’s booming sound design and Jherek Bischoff’s compositions combine to create a moody, thumping score that fits perfectly. Samuel Wyer’s puppetry design is inventive and menacing as he creates beings from another world out of rotting fabric and black umbrellas, while Finn Caldwell’s puppetry direction brings these terrifying beasts to life. Paule Constable’s lighting design illuminates just enough with specials and spotlights in order to immersive the audience and keep the magic alive.

The Ocean At The End of The Lane is an ethereal experience. Joel Horwood beautifully captures Neil Gaiman’s masterpiece and transports it to the stage in a beautifully woven, visually stunning piece of theatre with an emotional and fantastical story. Playing a limited run at the New Wimbledon Theatre until April 15th, The Ocean At The End of The Lane is not one to miss!

Reviewed by Stuart James