Page to stage transfers are often fraught with danger, but Joel Harwood’s adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s 2013 short novel, remains respectful of its original source. Yes, there are minor alterations to the plot and characters, but this is in order to stage a work that was thought to be utterly unadaptable.
If you are the type to hide behind the sofa cushions at scary movies, then The Ocean at the End of the Lane maybe isn’t for you. Childhood nightmares are frighteningly realised as is the thin line between fantasy and reality.
An unnamed man has returned to his childhood home in the wake of his father’s (Trevor Fox) death. The action opens on a funeral in the present day and flashes back to the suicide of the family lodger who steals their car to complete the act and the comically macabre antics of dad retrieving his son’s (Keir Ogilvy) birthday present from under the body. From these few moments alone, you can tell we are not on syrupy family storytelling ground.
When “the man” takes a walk down the lane to his childhood home, he encounters Mrs. Hempstock (a magnetic Finty Williams) the grandmother of his friend Lettie (a spirited Millie Hikasa), the matriarch of a trio of strong, independent farming women with some interesting abilities, women who helped him through the darkest days of his childhood. These dark days due to his father’s new lodger and love interest (Jasmeen James), who inveigles her way into his home and his father’s heart. Of course, all is not as it seems.
The cast are universally excellent, save for Laurie Ogden’s overtly caricatured portrayal of the (very) annoying little sis. The physicality of the ensemble is mesmerising as they fluidly move the set and bring to life the terrifying demons that lurk on “the edge”. Boy (Ogilvie) and Lettie (Hikasa) are captivating in their portrayals of these two unusual pre-teens.
The only criticism of the work is the protracted ending. It loses impact due to the repetitiveness.
It is a complex, dense and layered work that speaks to all ages on different levels, an evocation of the darkest parts of our imaginations, a work that leaves an impression. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a refreshing departure from current offerings. The intriguing visual ideas are expertly realised, fiercely imaginative, brilliantly inventive, and genuinely scary. More like this please.
Runs until 2 September 2023 | Image: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg