Review: The Ocean at The End of The Lane, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

Andy Howells visits Wales Millennium Centre’s Donald Gordon Theatre for “A unique stage experience” as Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at The End of The Lane takes to the stage starring Millie Hikasa, Charlie Brooks and Flinty Williams.

Mention the name of writer, Neil Gaiman to any Sci-fi /fantasy fan and you are sure to get a nod of approval and a conversation that could lead you anywhere from Doctor Who and Good Omens to Sandman and The Sleeper & The Spindle. A writer who not only leads you into different worlds, but also storylines with epic unwinding plots, frequently placing real people in unnatural surroundings and real danger. That can work great in book, film, television and radio, but what about theatre?

National Theatre’s The Ocean at The End of The Lane which plays Wales Millennium Centre until June 3, begins with a man returning to his childhood home, standing beside the pond of the old Sussex farmhouse where he used to play. He meets a familiar face from the past and is suddenly transported back to his 12th birthday, the scene of a disturbing death and a meeting with an eccentric, but enchanting young girl called Letti, who claims the pond is an ocean where everything is possible.

As the friends plunge into their new world, they come up against a dark ancient force that follows them back to their own world. Then, the real drama begins.

The loneliness of the teenage boy, his strained relationship with his family, contrasting with a new blossoming friendship balance beautifully with layers of mysticism, science-fiction and fantasy. The Ocean at The End of the Lane employs theatrical elements such as choreography, puppetry, lighting and sound scaping to bring Gaiman’s magical story to life. The main backdrop of the set is a grove of trees that wonderfully come to life as the scenes and lighting change. Ensemble members subtly and skilfully move props on and off the stage to create bedrooms, kitchens, and ponds. The direction wonderfully plays with their anonymity as a scene supposedly ends, the ensemble’s subtle movements paused as a character delivers an extra line for effect.

The Ocean at The End of The Lane is led by two and exciting young actors as the protagonists. Millie Hikasa gives an outstanding performance as Letti which is playful, fun, commanding, eccentric and other worldly.  Her blossoming friendship with Keir Ogilvy’s boy is simply a joy to watch, particularly when the pair do battle with Skarthatch, the giant flea (produced effectively through puppetry by the ensemble). Keir Ogilvy also has some wonderfully emotive scenes opposite Trevor Fox’s Dad and you really get the sense of a father and son trying to reach out to each other across the divide.

Charlie Brooks gets some of the productions more playful moments as the lodger from hell, Ursula. Toying with the boy’s mind after possessing him, there is a wonderfully surprising scene in which Ursula appears through a multitude of doors unexpectedly. It really must be seen to be believed. Meanwhile, Finty Williams   keeps the audience guessing as to who or what Old Mrs Hempstock really is, balancing a mystically assured portrayal with an underlying humour. Her performance is sure to keep you guessing all the way to the end… and beyond!

A unique stage experience, The Ocean at The End of The Lane challenges not only the characters, but also the audiences’ thoughts on perception and beautifully challenges them on stage. The ultimate in sci-fi fantasy for theatre. Do not miss this production!

For ticket availability visit Wales Millennium Centre’s website

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