The National Theatre’s acclaimed play The Ocean At The End Of The Lane plunged the audience at The Regent, in Hanley, into a vivid world of magical realism when it opened at the start of this week.
Written by the hugely successful author Neil Gaiman, the story of a boy struggling to be seen in his own world who accidentally walks into a fantasy dimension is reported to be the closet Gaiman has come to writing about his own life.
This rich, otherworldly storytelling from Gaiman combines exceptional quality from the National Theatre and immersive stage effects to create a rare magical on-stage experience that captivates the audience right up until the curtain falls.
Bringing to life the idea of magic and fantasy that exists right under our noses without ever knowing it, the play follows the story of a lonely 11-year-old boy who meets a seemingly lonely 12-year-old girl but in turn discovers ‘the ocean’ and the mysteries that surround it.
This initial encounter leads the boy, played by Kier Ogilvy, into a fearful spiral that, while awakening his inner strength, terrifies him in equal measure as a giant ‘flea’ breaks down the boundaries of an alternate existence and turns the boy’s world into a waking nightmare through the arrival of manipulative nanny Ursula, played by Charlie Brooks.
It is the kind of play that you could watch again and again, looking for the hidden meanings and the metaphors for life as it untangles and transforms the themes of childhood betrayal and loss, along with bravery and sacrifice. While the constant action onstage as the story continually moves forwards is gripping in itself, the magical atmosphere that makes the stage appear cavernous and otherworldly lifts this play onto another level.
Puppetry, lighting, costume and special effects are used to incredible effect to create a fantasy realm that projects the fear and emotion that are integral to the storyline. It’s no surprise to a see a magic and illusion associate credited on the performance.
These foundations give the cast the backdrop to excel, and the acting is second to none. Keir Ogilvy is engaging and believable as the boy, while Millie Hikasa brings a true energy to her role as Lettie Hemstock. Trevor Fox is brilliantly understated as the father while Charlie Brooks (of Eastenders fame) is excellent as the duplicitous, seductive Ursula. Kemi-Bo Jacobs, is perfectly aloof as Lettie’s mother Ginny Hempstock, while Finty Williams puts in a powerful and emotive performance as the mysterious, insightful Old Mrs Hempstock.
With its magical retelling of an otherworldly experience cast within an everyday setting The Ocean At The End Of The Lane has more than a touch of Stranger Things about it – and would definitely appeal to fans of the show, along with Neil Gaiman fans. Dark, mysterious and with pockets of humour this show is rated 12-plus.
A chance to catch a genuinely atmospheric and magical stage show, that delivers the best theatre has to offer, don’t miss The Ocean At The End Of The Lane at The Regent Theatre this week. The show runs until Saturday, September 16 and tickets are available from https://www.atgtickets.com.