The Ocean At The End Of The Lane Brims With Wild Imagination

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane, National Theatre ★★★★☆

By Paul Ewing Last edited 9 months ago

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The Ocean At The End Of The Lane Brims With Wild Imagination The Ocean At The End Of The Lane, National Theatre 4
Photo: Manuel Harlan

The Dorfman Theatre is transformed into a thicket of imagination (and a few scares) in this brisk and evocative adaptation of Neil Gaiman's book of the same name by Joel Horwood. Even if you're unfamiliar with the story, this production directed by Katy Rudd, quickly establishes a strange and unusual world. With a strong cast and endless theatrical tricks, you'll find yourself enthralled in its exploration around how people remember the past and the blurring of reality and fantasy that come with memories and time.

Death and loss are never far away in this story. Opening with a funeral, a man returns to his hometown and stops by the place where he remembers a girl called Lettie who he knew as a young man. There he encounters her grandmother again and soon is transported back to the time when they knew each other as a boy, which just so happens to be the early 1980s.

The boy (Samuel Blenkin) meets Lettie (Marli Siu) after a lodger living with his family commits suicide near her farm. This act allows an unknown supernatural being to try and enter the boy's world. Lettie, her mother and grandmother have experience with these things and soon the stage is set for Lettie to send the being back to where it came from. But it doesn't quite go to plan. In the battle with the being, it lodges a worm in the boy's hand. We don't want to spoil anymore, just be ready for the rest of the play to be just as leftfield.

Photo: Manuel Harlan

While on one level it's just another childhood adventure with a boy and a girl, it's told with great theatrical flair and few genuine scares. Puppetry, movement, sound and dramatic effects are all deployed to evoke another world. Samuel Blenkin as the "boy" and Marlie Siu as Lettie are engaging as the two loners from different worlds. Pippa Nixon makes a delightful villain of the piece.

A show that explores memories of childhood makes it easy to transport yourself back to the time. If you're a child of the eighties, the retro looks will be all-too-familiar. While on one level, it was a simpler time, the piece is a reminder that childhood can be scary in any period. Regardless of whether the fears are real imagined, or come in acid wash denim and a perm.

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane, National Theatre, Upper Ground, SE1 9PX, £15-£65. Until 25 January 2020

Last Updated 12 December 2019