Without doubt British Author Neil Gaiman (Coraline, Good Omens and The Sandman) is one of the greatest storytellers in the world. His intriguing and beguiling tales are in turns science-fiction, fantasy, surrealism, horror, magic realism and have appeared as novels, comic books, audio theatre, films, television and now stage. Playwright Joel Harwood together with director Katy Rudd have adapted the award-winning book in an equally award-winning play which appeared at the Dorfman, the Royal National Theatre’s smallest theatre back in December 2019 to stunning acclaim and, though the touring version seems a somewhat pared down version of the original, it’s easy to see why it is so popular.
It begins with a single man returning to his childhood home, standing beside a pond where he used to play being transported through fantasy and myth to his 12th birthday. The pond, his friend, Lettie, claims is an ocean not a pond and they find themselves batting ancient, mysterious forces in an attempt to survive. I’ve always thought fantasy, and particularly science-fiction, rarely work well on stage being more literary or cinematic genres, but “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” did its best to persuade me otherwise. I’m not sure it succeeded. One of my problems with fantasy is large chunks of dialogue have to be devoted to explaining the rules of the world before any drama can ensure. Rules normally relegated to the author’s voice on stage are told by characters to characters robbing large chunks of dialogue of any urgency.
Despite those niggles it is a strong and vibrant piece to look at with lots of exciting choreography and physical theatre drafted in to compensate for the lack of big special effects. The design of both set and costumes were outstanding and a number of performances resonated especially Finty Williams as the formidable Old Mrs Hempstock. Aimee McGolderick took over the role of Sis and Dad was, this time, played by Joe Rawlinson-Hunt. The wisps of lyricism are perfectly captured by both Keir Ogilvy and Millie Hikasa as an endearing and energetic lead pair both with a trace of Hansel and Gretel about them.
I was surrounded by enthralled and delighted audience members all of whom were clearly more familiar with the book than I and consequently could fill in the gaps and process plot details more quickly than I.
If science-fiction and fantasy are your thing you won’t be short changed. It ticks many of the genre boxes and builds and embellishes on many more adding surprises for even the most hardened fan.
Reviewer: Peter Kinnock
Reviewed: 26th September 2023
North West End UK Rating: