‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ at Stoke’s Regent Theatre is an enchanting journey into the realm of fantasy and friendship. This adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s celebrated novel, skillfully crafted by Joel Horwood and brought to life under the direction of Katy Rudd, immerses the audience in a world filled with stunning visuals, intricate storytelling, and exceptional performances.
The narrative unfolds against the backdrop of a childhood home, where a man returns to the old Sussex farmhouse. Here, a seemingly ordinary pond was once considered an ocean—a place where boundless possibilities thrived. Transported back to his 12th birthday, the protagonist reminisces about the extraordinary friend Lettie, whose presence transformed his world. Together, they embark on a journey within a magical realm, confronting ancient forces that threaten to unravel everything around them.
The production’s standout feature is undoubtedly its visual and design elements, masterfully orchestrated by Fly Davis (set design) and Samuel Wyer (costume and puppet design). Davis’s set design seamlessly adapts to various locations, filling the stage with its expansive and transformative presence. Wyer’s costume and puppet designs breathe life into the characters, infusing them with a sinister authenticity. The show explores a darkness amongst the magic, delving into concepts such as monsters and ‘evil’. The clever, metamorphising puppetry design helps to effectively create, explore and demonstrate this darkness and the threat of darkness within the show. What truly elevates the production, however, is the inclusion of magic and illusions, brilliantly directed and designed by Jamie Harrison. These mesmerising elements are seamlessly woven into the narrative, intensifying the enchantment of the story.
The cast’s performances are commendable across the board. Charlie Brooks, in the role of Ursula, is a captivating presence who consistently steals the spotlight. Keir Ogilvy, in the lead role, anchors the production with unwavering dedication, tirelessly contributing to its success. Notably, Kemi-Bo Jacobs and Finty Williams, portraying Ginnie and Old Mrs. Hempstock, deliver emotionally charged performances that resonate deeply with the audience.
Moreover, the production boasts a superb movement design by Steven Hoggett, which enhances the overall experience. The choreographed movements and physicality of the characters add another layer of storytelling to the performance, further immersing the audience into the magical world of the play.
The play explores themes that span generations, offering moments of reflection for all. Its broad appeal, however, at times resulted in a lack of depth in certain areas. While the adaptation admirably captures the essence of Gaiman’s novel, it occasionally grapples with the challenge of translating the source material’s richness to the stage. Certain elements, such as the exploration of grief and trauma, may appear underdeveloped in this format. Nevertheless, the production manages to find moments of poignancy, particularly towards the conclusion, which leave a lasting emotional impact.
The production quality is nothing short of exceptional, with Paule Constable’s lighting and Finn Caldwell’s puppetry direction deserving special mention for their innovative and effective designs. These elements enhance the overall experience, further immersing the audience in the story’s dark, yet enchanting, world.
Throughout the performance, numerous moments stand out, etching themselves into the memory of the audience. Notable instances include the ingenious use of puppetry for the giant ‘flea,’ the creation of water scenes that evoke a sense of wonder, and a particularly clever scene where the Boy finds himself locked in a multiplying house. This scene, in particular, showcases the art of misdirection and stage magic at its finest.
In conclusion, ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ is an unmissable theatrical masterpiece—a mesmerising journey into a realm of fantasy and friendship. It caters to a broad audience, offering a captivating blend of stunning visuals, intricate storytelling, exceptional performances, and superb movement design. Do not miss the opportunity to witness this enchanting production, where the boundaries between reality and fantasy blur, leaving you spellbound from start to finish.
‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ is playing at the Regent Theatre until Saturday 16th September 2023 before continuing its tour and then moving to London’s West End for a limited run.