Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane, National Theatre

The theatrical magic of the excellent The Ocean at the End of the Lane finds a perfect home at the National Theatre

“A rip in forever where possibilities begin”

Based on the novel by Neil Gaiman and adapted by Joel Horwood, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is pretty much perfection at the National Theatre. Katy Rudd’s production is a triumph of creative endeavour, as she melds her various elements into a couple of hours of real theatrical magic. Key is Steven Hoggett’s inimitable movement, creating a wonderful sense of fluidity throughout, but particularly in the scene changes. The seamless ensemble work that results plays a huge part of the thoroughly enchanting world-building going on here.

That world is the England of fairytales, Sussex farmland where the fabric of the universe is thin. There, a boy meets a girl and in their japes, a monster breaks through from another world, so far so fantasy. But even the simple act of whipping props on and off stage becomes something more profound (the cooker moving just out of Dad’s reach…), manipulating fearsome puppets (designed by Samuel Wyer and directed by Finn Caldwell) makes something of an artistic statement, or just lying on the ground to embody some creature or other finds a similarly strange beauty.

Fly Davis’ design also holds manifold surprises in the set, cleverly illuminated by the intelligent lighting work by Paule Constable, a sequence with repeating doors is a carnivalesque thing of wonder. This level of sheer quality is maintained with a magical wash of sound and music from Ian Dickinson and Jherek Bischoff respectively, which really do much to deepen the mood of transfixed wonder as our protagonists do battle with the forces of something really quite sinister, an elemental evil that is tough to shake.

Samuel Blenkin and Marli Siu are sensational as the young pair at the heart of the story. He’s all teen awkwardness and bemusement, she’s otherworldly-wise and mysterious and together, they slot perfectly into this world of magic. Carlyss Peer and an aged-up Josie Walker impress as further guardians of the ancient ways and there’s powerfully emotive work from Justin Salinger as the older version of Boy, as well as playing his father, which suggests something of how folklore is made and memorialised across the generations. Plus Pippa Nixon is fantastic as the truly villainous Ursula, a proper Christmas treat. 

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Manuel Harlan
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is booking at the National Theatre until 25th January

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