The Ocean at the End of the Lane at the Duke of York’s Theatre
This is the new face of blockbuster theatre: not a musical, but still utilising a large ensemble who dance and prance across the stage; aimed firmly at a young audience, but with a high level of production and dark enough tone that any adult who squints could take this stuff seriously. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, adapted by Joel Horwood from the novel by Neil Gaiman, has transferred from the National Theatre to the West End.
Following the formula set by Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, this production uses the supernatural to focus on a small-stakes family drama, here between a meek young boy (James Bamford) and his depressed, traumatised father (Nicholas Tennant). Living in an isolated farm country, the boy shields himself from the stirrings of manhood by making friends with local girl Lettie (Nia Towle), whose entire family, it transpires, have magical abilities.
The spectacle is applaudable. Director Katy Rudd’s use of effects is far superior to the touted Cursed Child scenes of magic. Here, fantastical battles are characterised through dedicated physical theatre and a bone-rattling soundscape. Their adventures remain pleasantly small-scale, the stakes always specific to the boy’s fragile family.
Fans familiar with Gaiman’s other titles, including Coraline and The Daughters of Sirensten, will find this production follows familiar beats. The inherent mundane melancholy of childhood is placed side-by-side with the macabre. As the villainous Ursula (Laura Rodgers) is introduced, the play finds a worthy panto nemesis.
What sticks in the mind is the puppetry, including pieces of cloth that become ocean waves, used to characterise both the magical worlds of the play and the interiors of each character’s soul. As pure spectacle, its expertly done. Older viewers will wince at some of the plot holes, the threads that are left dangling, and the sight of adults playing children. But rejoice, for this remains a perfect Christmas treat for youngsters.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is at the Duke of York’s Theatre from 11th November until 14th May 2022. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch the trailer for the production here: