The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a theatrical triumph that will remind you what the stage was made for.
Based on Neil Gaiman’s novella of the same name, The Ocean at the End of the Lane (adapted for stage by Joel Horwood, directed by Katy Rudd) tells the tale of a bookish, unnamed ‘boy’ (Keir Ogilvy) living with his widower father and argumentative little sister. When the family lodger is found dead in tragic, but not suspicious, circumstances, the boy is invited to spend the morning with his kooky neighbour, Lettie (Millie Hikasa). A few bowls of porridge and several uncanny instances later (50p coins are found inside pond fish, inter-dimensional worms find their way inside of people – and so on) our hero discovers that the lodger’s actions have roused a monstrous ‘flea’ from another dimension, who will stop at nothing to cross from her world into ours.
Ocean is a show that embraces its theatricality with open, loving arms. Actors appear in two places at once; bloody hands emerge from bathtub plug holes; a series of enormous, otherworldly puppets clamber about a stage framed by willow structures all-aglimmer with LED lights. “This is the theatre!”, Ocean shouts with pride: “So let’s be in the theatre. Let’s use this stage for all its worth”. And whilst the acting is pitch perfect throughout, story and theme take precedence over performance.
The limelight is allowed to fall squarely on the questions being asked by the show: Can we ever have all of life’s answers – and do we really want them? Is death the Ultimate End? What makes a monster? And is there really such thing as a true memory, or is it rather the case that, as Lettie’s grandmother (Emma Jane Goodwin) suggests, “different people remember things differently, and you’ll not get any two people to remember anything the same, whether they were there or not.” So, it isn’t all loud music and big puppets. The show leaves space for the littler, quieter, human moments too – and it’s all the better for it.
We’re often told we must ‘suspend our disbelief’ when watching shows of this ilk. We have to hold off all logical thinking and simply enjoy the impossible for a moment. But for Ocean, such suspension hardly seems necessary. We just believe – from the moment our boy tumbles onto stage – that we too are in this world of ‘fleas’, and shapeshifting monsters, and magical oceans. It is, in this sense, a spellbinding production in the truest meaning of the word. On our way out, my companion suggests that the show could have been even better had some of the puppets been taken out for a second spin. What better criticism could an audience member give? To simply want more of what they’ve already had.
Ocean is a glittering, joyous treat that will remind you why we go to the theatre.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is playing at Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday 19th August. Tickets available at atgtickets.com