The Boy, played by Keir Ogilvy and Lettie, played by Millie Hikasa confronted by creatures at the edge. Pictures: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Wolverhampton Grand


Every so often along comes a production that takes theatre far beyond merely a place of entertainment, transporting us to another world, firing the imagination and showing what a magical place theatre can be.

Director Katy Rudd is the alchemist who has combined all the elements of stagecraft brilliantly to produce a moment of theatrical brilliance.

Based on Neil Gaiman’s novel, adapted by Joel Horwood, the plot is, well, weird. It involves a strange family, the Hempstocks, who, with their farm, can be traced back to the Domesday Book and, by implication, way beyond that, then there is thier duck pond with magical powers and finally, shapeshifting creatures on the edge – the edge a place we cannot see or define – trying to find a way into our world from theirs.

To top it all this is a tale seen through the eyes of a twelve year old boy, played by Keir Ogilvy, and  Lettie Hempstock played by Millie Hikasa, who is somewhere between the same age and . . . who knows. We know she knows things that we don’t and suspect never will, unless we find ourselves at the edge, one day . . . just saying.

The tell tale sign of the, er, creatures trying to get in here, is 50p coins in this particular case, especially the one trying to choke you.


Charlie Brooks as Ursula showing evil can appear in many shapes and sizes

Money being the ticket in after the lodger in the boy’s house can’t live with having spent all his investors’ money on gambling. His death opens the door into our world a crack. It’s a crack Lettie and the boy attempt to close, which awakens the . . .  flee, flea, fleigh, however you spell it, it’s a pretty nasty stage filling creature of fur, feathers, spindly claws, danger, brutality and, if you are perhaps older than 12, a hint of seduction. When you are 12 though, innocent and naive, you are merely the way in.

Then there is Ursula, played by Charlie Brooks, and, to be honest, if monsters and creatures of evil all looked like her, they would definitely get a better Press than they do, but no matter. She is the new lodger who turns up by chance as all things to all men, and even more to boy’s baby sis, the bane of his life, played on Press night by Aimee McGoldrick. Brother and Sis have a strained relationship since boy was decanted into Sis’s room to accommodate a lodger.

So Ursula is a welcome distraction, one who doesn’t burn toast, but that’s another story. She even resume’s Sis’s interrupted piano lessons and we hear her practicing in the background, playing what sounds remarkably like snatches of Abba’s Money, Money, Money.

Dad, played by Joe Rawlinson-Hunt on Press night, is enchanted, in more ways than one, and the lone parent, doing his best, is now, like it, or even know it, or not, is doing her behest.

The only thing between the boy and . . . we never really establish what except it is not very pleasant . . . is the Hempstocks

The relationships there are implied rather than defined with Ginny, who we assume is Lettie’s mother, played by Kemi-Bo Jacobs, the farmer of the family, mending fences, feeding and tending livestock, and knowing far more than she tells.

Then there is Old Mrs Hempstock, old because she was there first, first being anytime between now and, well, then – whenever then was, or even if it was.

With the . . . thing, having found a way in, drastic remedies are called for in the shape of the hunger birds, scavengers of anything out of place, such as Ursula . . . oh and the boy. Did we mention his first encounter left him with a wormhole? No? Well it did.

And that means a final battle to join the clashes in the noble good versus evil traditions of the likes of Narnia and Mordor, battles against forces we cannot comprehend.

We close as we opened with the boy, now a man, returning for the funeral of his father, talking to Old Mrs Hempstock and finding memory and reality might not follow the same path with battles won, lost, remembered or forgotten . . . or forgotten for him. He is left to know and believe what he has been left to know and believe.


Keir Ogilvy as Boy, Finty Williams as Old Mrs Hempstock and Millie Hikasa as Lettie

The wonderful cast with its ensemble, arriving in waves, like thoughts or ideas to bring on or take off props and set, and a story with characters growing before us are all creating a world on either side of reality and bringing an improbable tale to life (surely it is just a tale, isn’t it?).

But that is only part of the creation. There is Fly Davis’s dark, gothic set of twisted trees and undergrowth, lighting from Paule Constable that creates shades of light, dark and terror, with clever set ups for graves and a fairy ring and particularly bait to attract the hunger birds.

There are Samuel Wyer’s striking costumes and puppets from the huge monster . . . thing to the tiny boy protected by the ocean, and Steven Hoggett as movement director has created terror and a fight for survival between our world and theirs all set to music from Jherek Bischoff and the sound design of Ian Dickinson, which makes you part of the pulsating, bass thumping action whether you like it or not.

And with no computer graphics, or video all the magic and illusions were down to the age old art of prestidigitation, wizardry, under the guidance and invention of Jamie Harrison.

The National Theatre has form when it comes to taking unlikely subjects and creating magical theatre. They did it with War Horse and again with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and they have done it again.

I took my grandson, aged 12, a seasoned theatre goer these days, and he loved it, thought it was brilliant and there were plenty of school trips in on Press night bringing a whole new generation to experience theatre at its finest. This is a masterclass for anyone involved in or with a love of theatre to see how convincing acting allied to the finest skills of traditional stagecraft can combine to create simply magical theatre.

The ocean will be at the end of the Grand to 30-09-23.

Roger Clarke


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