Theatre Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane @The Regent

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There is definitely something lurking in the streets of Hanley this week. This presence is all down to the arrival of The Ocean at the End of the Lane – a magnificent piece of magic reality that captivates the audience as they are swept along in the magical adventure of a boy and his friend.

Will anyone who has had the pleasure of seeing this award-winning piece of theatre ever again be able to look into the eyes of another person without wondering what lies beneath their surface?

Based on the highly-acclaimed novel of the same name that relates some of author Neil Gaiman’s own memories of childhood, the story begins with the unnamed Boy (Keir Ogilvy) returning to his childhood home for a funeral. His memories transport him back to his childhood when the bookish 12-year old’s birthday was ruined by the suicide of a lodger. The narrator lived with his bereaved Dad (Trevor Fox) and his Sis (Laurie Ogden) – a relationship that often sees the siblings at odds with each other.

The Boy makes friends with Lettie (Millie Hikasa) who lives with two women – Ginny Hempstock (Kemi-Bo Jacobs) and Old Mrs Hempstock (Finty Williams) – who live on a large nearby farm that includes a duckpond that Lettie describes as an ocean.

The Hempstock family is clearly not all that it seems and Lettie soon shows the magical properties possessed by the pond. The magic then becomes much more serious when Lettie takes the Boy to the edge of the farm property to experience the evil that lurks there.

Promised by his new friend that no harm will come to him so long as he holds her hand throughout, the boy momentarily breaks free and this allows the force of evil to enter the normal world. It manifests itself in Dad’s new lodger Ursula (Charlie Brooks – Janine from Eastenders) who proceeds to seduce the Boy’s family into harming him.

Sis sees Ursula as her new best friend and Dad is changed from an affable guy to someone on the verge of killing his son. A terrorised boy realises the only path to rid himself of the evil is to turn to the mysterious Hempstocks and the magic of the Ocean – a path that leads to a tragedy that brings tears to the eyes of the onlookers.

The play has many highpoints that cause a variety of emotions for the audience. There are moments of laughter, deep sadness, fear and awesome wonder as the events unfold before their eyes and it takes versatility to carry off the leading roles. Ogilvy is magnificent as a young man on the cusp of adolescence who is drawn into scenes beyond his imagination. His performance is more than matched by Hikasa who is part of a very believable partnership. Fox is versatile as he swings from being a struggling but sympathetic single father to a potential child killer and Brooks does not disappoint as the malevolent intruder as she showcases the talents honed in soapland. The lead actors are ably supported by the remainder of the cast but their performances are definitely aided by the work of the creative team.

Director Katy Rudd has made the most of this epic story and has surrounded herself with masters of their crafts.  A haunting set designed by Fly Davis and superbly lit by Paule Constable add awesome atmosphere as does the music composed by Jherek Bischoff. There are some haunting and mesmeric movement sequences directed by Steven Hoggett and the puppetry is worth the price of admission on its own. Designed by Samuel Wyer and directed by Finn Caldwell, the sequences involving the flea (you have to be there to understand this reference!!), the hunger birds and the journey through the Ocean are wondrous in their breadth and their execution.

This hugely satisfying drama hits so many spots for the audience who are so intensely involved in proceedings that you could hear the proverbial pin drop and there was a collective intake of breath at the final curtain as much-deserved applause rained down on the cast.

The drama suggests that memories can be imagination at work. If so, my imagination was running wild and it has left me with memories of a night that should not be missed. It was magical, mysterious and magnificent.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane has a running time of approximately 2 hours 30 minutes including interval and continues until September 16th. For ticket information, contact atgtickets.com/stoke