Dynamic, heartfelt and pumping with energy, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a gem of mystical childhood magic. The story follows an unnamed boy as he gets drawn into a world filled with mythical beasts and demons, mind reading and magic. With the help of his friend Lettie, he must banish a monster (simply named ‘the Flea’) who tricked her way through to the real world, taking the form of sickly sweet nanny, Ursula
Samuel Blenkin leads the show with pure, believable innocence. His outright naivety and excellent comic timing makes the audience warm to him instantly and relate to his childish ways. Other noticeable performances come in the form of Justin Salinger’s ever-conflicted portrayal of Dad and Pippa Nixon’s Ursula who’s slimy sweetness is reminiscent of Dolores Umbridge.
The true masters of the show however are the Set Designer Fly Davis and the Lighting Designer Paule Constable. The set initially comprised solely of a large cluster of branches intertwining and sprouting from one another, forming a wall at the back of the stage. This somewhat creepy backdrop grounded all the scenes in a sense of eeriness whilst also being evocative of nature’s power. Throughout, set was introduced cleverly with set pieces being raised through the stage, brought in through the audience and altered with seamless transitions by the ensemble. This fluidity of set changes further reinforced the feeling of magic in the air. The complex lighting design brought to life so many aspects of the plot from intensifying the evil Flea to creating the wonderful world within the Ocean. This was a huge feat of expertise that brought the whole piece together- not overpowering the action, but complimenting it perfectly.
One might question how Director Katy Rudd would manage to bring the horrific monsters from the book into a stage production. She achieves this through the use of puppetry and impressive physical theatre. To use one example, the creation of ‘the Flea’ is a masterful piece of theatrical prowess. The spindly legs, lolling head and bulbous, scrappy body were manipulated by six members of the cast and dominated the entirety of the stage, crawling, running and ducking and diving around the space. The overwhelming presence of the puppet paired with the use of both sound and lighting design brought the monster to life with utmost clarity and intimidation.
Neil Gaiman, author of the original book, said: “I’d written something personal for me, and somehow it was personal for them as well”. As an audience member, this sentiment resonates. While the story may be filled with mythical beasts and magic, at the heart of it the story is one of friendship, hardship, family and bravery, of overcoming challenges and battling demons. In one way or another, everybody can relate these themes to their own life, making the show touching, heartfelt and real.