The Ocean at the End of the Lane at Noël Coward Theatre
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a bewitching experience with remarkable writing, an impressive storyline, striking visuals and masterful effects. It is exceedingly rare for a show to get so much right, let alone one suitable for kids.
That’s not to say that it’s appropriate for all kids. The story may seem light-hearted at first glance: An unnamed middle-aged protagonist (Joe Rawlinson-Hunt / Lewis Howard) returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. There, he visits the enigmatic Hempstock family on their farm and is engulfed by memories of himself as a boy (Keir Ogilvy), when he befriended Lettie Hempstock (Millie Hikasa) and her relatives in a world teeming with supernatural forces, a mystical duckpond, and other otherworldly occurrences. But there’s a lot going on that is on the darker side: the boy’s father (Trevor Fox) is abusive, many of the scenes are eerie and grim, and some of the imagery throughout is twisted.
Those who brave the haunting atmosphere will be moved by a heart-wrenching play from start to finish, with all elements fitting together seamlessly. Katy Rudd’s direction really is awe-inspiring, with a stunning, ethereal woodland crafted by set designer Fly Davis and captivating puppets by Samuel Wyer. Along with the enchanting magic and illusions designed by Jamie Harrison, these combined elements of the production create an unforgettable experience. Every aspect is executed with great skill and keeps the audience enthralled.
Ultimately, the story remains the main attraction; it is one of Neil Gaiman’s finest. It brilliantly captures the experience of a young child with an active imagination when faced with challenging life situations. Fantasy and reality merge to explore innocence, memory and selfhood – timeless themes that will appeal to any audience. The cast is first-rate and they convince throughout the performance.
The few flaws that can be pointed out are centred around occasionally conventional lines or characters – but they’re rare and on such a minor scale that it hardly puts a dent in this outstanding play. The Ocean at the End of the Lane stands as a testament to the power of children’s theatre, and also a resounding paean to the imagination – truly, a masterpiece.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is at Noël Coward Theatre from 11th until 15th October 2023. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.