After just a few weeks into its national tour, the stage adaptation of Neil Gaimen’s novel The Ocean At The End Of The Lane has arrived at Woking’s New Victoria Theatre where it received an ecstatic response on its first night.
The award-winning and internationally-acclaimed novel was adapted for the stage by Joel Horwood and is directed by Katy Rudd, with sets, sound and movement that conjure up mystery and magic to plunge us into Gaimen’s somewhat weird and frightening world. Quite an emotional experience for the uninitiated.
A middle-aged man arrives in his home village to attend a family funeral, after which he decides to visit an old farmhouse where his childhood friend Lettie Hempstock (Millie Hikasa) lived with her mother (Kemi-Bo Jacobs) and grandmother (Finty Williams).
While there, he goes to the duck pond which his friend had told him was the ocean and where anything and everything is possible – and so it transpires as the story progresses.
The man, who has no name, enters the farmhouse and encounters Old Mrs Hempstock. Memories flood back and he reverts to the boy (Keir Olgivy) on his 12th birthday, an unhappy lad who derives solace from his books. He has a mischievous sister (Laurie Ogden) who likes to goad him and a father (Trevor Fox) who is struggling to bring up his two motherless children.
The boy remembers back to their lodger who committed suicide in his father’s Mini and an evil woman called Ursula (Charlie Brooks) who comes to live with them and who he fears will replace his much-loved mother. During several terrifying sequences, involving an enormous spider-like flea monster and with noises so loud the very ground reverberated around us, that demonic woman is dismembered by a flock of large black birds.
The Hempstocks would appear to be timeless with a magic all of their own. Grandma snips and sews to conjure up her magic and young Lettie has the knowledge, willpower and strength to save her friend when the boy’s body is invaded by a creature that worms its way into his body to eat hole in his heart.
Great work from all the main cast members with the boy and his loyal friend, plus sister of course, fully capturing the exuberance of youth. While her mother and his father would seem to represent a more down to earth and stable element - most of the time. There’s great character capture from Finty Williams playing the grandmother, who combines an old country woman with something of a wise white witch. Charlie Brook’s Ursula is truly the personification of evil in all its guises with fantastic input from the special effects team. She is quite a tour de force.
The eight-strong ensemble team really do need a special mention since it is their presence in many shapes and sizes and with strength and versatility that drives much of the action.
I can see now why this production from The National Theatre has won such acclaim and why Neil Gaiman’s story will surely fill theatres on the 40 week tour.