The Ocean at the End of the Lane ★★★★★ Duke of York's Theatre | Oct 26, 2021 - Feb 12, 2022


Neil Gaiman's contemporary fairy tale is given a spectacular production by the National Theatre. The rich allegory which addresses all the big issues – sex, death and spirituality – finds a worthy interpreter in Katy Rudd's beautifully choreographed rendition. Boy, adeptly played by James Bamford, is introduced to death by the fate of his father's lodger and soon faces the mystery of sexuality. His reaction to the mutable world that is the human condition is to seek out the magic offered by his neighbours, the three Hempstock women. Nia Towle gets it just right as Lettie, the younger of the three, who both introduces him to, and shields him from, the new reality he is now facing. Siubhan Harrison gives us a fine, understated performance as Ginnie who mediates between her mother's and daughter's worlds while Penny Layden positively conjures up Old Mrs. Hempstock who connects Boy to the old dispensation of nature's magic to explain his terrors. However, for us, the strongest performance was that of Nicolas Tennant as both Dad and the older Boy. It was Tennant who managed to walk the extremely difficult line between realism and two-dimensional fairy tale character. In the end, Boy's journey is framed by a second death, that of his father, and by his acceptance of the contemporary world's magic: human experience as explained by science. All in all, this is a quite brilliantly dramatised version of Gaiman's dark coming of age story. Once again the National Theatre has created an unforgettable theatrical experience!

Rated: ★★★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by Manuel Harlan.

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