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The Ocean at the end of the Lane

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane


Noël Coward Theatre

THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE at the Noël Coward Theatre


The Ocean at the end of the Lane

“In short it is simply captivating”

The past doesn’t feel far away. We all have moments when we are convinced of that. That it’s just a short walk away, waiting at the end of the lane for us. Neil Gaiman’s uncharacteristically emotional 2013 novel is a story about the past, about what happens when we try to follow that lane. A voyage of discovery. And of re-discovery. Finding memories that we had chosen to forget and discarding false ones we had held onto. With Gaiman, of course, this path is littered with nightmares, but also with moments of beauty and aching sadness, that are all thrillingly brought to life in Katy Rudd’s stage production, adapted by Joel Horwood.

Nearly every discipline is used to create this masterpiece of theatre. One in which the practical and technical realities of design, light, sound, puppetry, choreography all assemble to concoct an other-worldly realm of the imagination, which draws us right in. Even in a West End, proscenium arched theatre there is no divide between stage and auditorium; between fantasy and reality. The story also blurs the lines between fairy-tale and horror flick, fable and comic strip. In short it is simply captivating. There is nothing else simple about it though.

Revisiting his childhood home, an unnamed man finds himself at an old farmhouse where he used to play and is transported back to his twelve-year-old self. To say that we return to the present at the climax is no spoiler; it is what lies between the bookends that I shall endeavour to keep under wraps, perhaps unnecessarily. I seem to be in the minority by coming to the show for the first time. Four years on from its premiere at the National, followed by a hiatus during the pandemic and then its belated transfer to the Duke of York’s Theatre; the return to the West End marks a repeat viewing for many people. And it is easy to see why.

Trevor Fox begins the narration before he is led back in time, where Fox also plays the dad to his younger self – known simply as Boy (Keir Ogilvy). Along with Boy’s sister – called Sis of course – the family unit is brittle. Are these memories of a happy childhood, or a lonely, miserable one? Is his father a bully or just grieving over the recent death of his mother? Whichever, Boy finds solace by escaping outside whenever possible where he meets Lettie (Millie Hikasa), a girl his own age who takes him back to her family’s farmhouse which borders a pond that Lettie refers to as the ocean. The ensuing adventures are triggered by a mix of personal tragedy and a belief in the make-believe. Cue the wicked stepmother figure, the call to arms, crossing the threshold, the monsters, the road back; pretty much all twelve steps of the ‘Hero’s Journey’. Except there is no ‘one hero’. And there is no one cast member who stands out – such is the brilliance of the performances.

“We are kept on the edge of our seats throughout”

Ogilvy’s ‘Boy’ has an innocent eccentricity offset by Hikasa’s more knowledgeable but equally eccentric Lettie. A gorgeous chemistry is struck between the two, glued together with hope and trust. Meanwhile, back at home, the sibling rivalry is stunningly and comically brought out thanks to the shining performance of Laurie Ogden as Sis. Charlie Brooks, as Ursula the witch-like new girlfriend of Dad, is a frightening presence. Sweet on the outside but barely concealing the bitter hard centre of menace. Kemi-Bo Jacobs and Finty Williams are the young Mrs Hempstock and Old Mrs Hempstock respectively – Lettie’s mother and grandmother. While we wonder whether the characters’ supernatural powers are real or not, there is no questioning the natural power of the performances.

The production could be described as magical realism. The stakes are high, the drama heightened. We are kept on the edge of our seats throughout. Ian Dickinson’s soundscape – with Jherek Bischoff’s high-powered music – is unsettling and thrilling, while Paule Constable’s lighting is just as atmospheric, moody and magical. Doors move, furniture floats in and out, and gnarled woodland flexes and pulses on Fly Davis’ set which is routinely transformed by a sinister ensemble in perfect time to Steven Hoggett’s inspired movement. The childhood fear, that we may have forgotten in adulthood, is scaringly reignited by Samuel Wyer’s puppets (for ‘puppet’ – read ‘monster’).

The finale is strikingly moving, especially having arrived there through the terror’s that are imagined and real. The stuff of nightmares are mirrored in the genuine feelings of grief, bereavement and the need to survive. Home truths are delivered to the heart with piercing accuracy. Memory lane is lined with thorns. Nothing really looks like what it is, and there is no such thing as a true memory. I partly disagree. This production will remain a true memory for a long while. Incredible – in every sense of the word.


THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE at the Noël Coward Theatre

Reviewed on 11th October 2023

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Brinkhoff-Moegenburg




Recently reviewed at this venue:

The Great British Bake Off Musical | ★★★ | March 2023

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane

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Company – 5 Stars



Gielgud Theatre

Reviewed – 17th October 2018


“the beauty of this musical (a real showcase of some of Sondheim’s finest numbers) is that the songs do not eclipse the characters”


A lot has been made of the gender swapping element of Marianne Elliott’s ground breaking production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Company”. By his own admission, Sondheim was initially unsure that he wanted it to happen. His reservations were understandable: all too often you see theatre where the protagonist has been made female and it doesn’t always work. It is to Elliott’s credit that he was persuaded to allow it (such was Sondheim’s faith in her) and the result is a brilliantly up to date reimagining of the work.

It seems that few alterations have been made to George Furth’s book. There are the obvious pronoun substitutions and lyrical changes, yet it is a seamless transformation – it is easy to forget that this version isn’t how it was originally written. Although it is radical, it doesn’t feel it. It feels natural and poignantly relevant, which is the ultimate compliment. Leave any preconceptions and debate at the door and just revel in the astonishing gorgeousness of this production.

In the absence of any real plot it relies on the sharp dialogue and characterisation and, of course, Sondheim’s inimitable score. Each song is a vignette – a stand-alone moment, but wedded to the narrative and given a sparkle of confetti by Bunny Christie’s ingenious ‘Alice in Wonderland’ design.

Rosalie Craig plays Bobbie, the single, independent woman, as a bewildered onlooker; surveying the inexplicable bargaining, bickering, compromises, trade-offs, understandings and misunderstandings of her friends’ marriages. She perfectly treads the path from amused derision through to a longing to be part of this weird world of wedded ‘bliss’. The dichotomy is heightened coming from the perspective of a woman aware of her biological clock ticking away on her thirty-fifth birthday. There is a spellbinding routine where Liam Steel’s choreography has four identically dressed versions of Bobbie appear to her in a dream as spirits of her future self; stuck in a clockwork loop of morose matrimony and motherhood. Craig gives a performance that will surely make her a West End fixture for quite some time.

But she is in good company. It is a show full of star turns. Jonathan Bailey showers the audience with the impossibly quick-fire lyrics of “Getting Married Today” with the lung capacity of a free-diver. George Blagden, Richard Fleeshman and Matthew Seadon-Young, as Bobbie’s three potential boyfriends offer a gloriously fresh take on “You Could Drive a Person Crazy”. Patti Lupone’s “The Ladies Who Lunch” is an unforgettable cry of self-deprecatory discontent. But the beauty of this musical (a real showcase of some of Sondheim’s finest numbers) is that the songs do not eclipse the characters. Mel Giedroyc and Gavin Spokes as the abstemious argumentative couple in denial, Daisy Maywood and Ashley Campbell as the happily divorced couple, Jennifer Saayeng and Richard Henders as the doped-up, straight-laced couple are all hilarious yet touching (my word count is cautioning me to be self-editing here). The entire piece comes with an immense sense of fun, without losing any of the emotive power. Craig’s solos; “Someone Is Waiting”, “Marry Me a Little” and, of course “Being Alive”, are achingly pure and heartfelt.

The friends that surround Bobbie repeatedly urge her to find somebody who will take care of her. “But who will I take of?” she responds. I think it’s safe to say that the success of this show is well and truly taken care of. I hope nothing is booked into the Gielgud Theatre for the foreseeable future.

Craig’s Bobbie bookends many of the scenes with the simple, singular word ‘Wow’. I left the theatre with the same word resounding in my head. Sondheim’s musical and Elliott’s production is a perfect match.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Brinkhoff Mogenburg



Gielgud Theatre until 30th March


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