Ocean at the End of the Lane was the first play we saw in a while (due to the pandemic and whatnot). And what a return it was at The Lowry theatre in Salford Quays!
It’s a fine play, too, taking advantage of how theatre can present a narrative in a fast-paced, and physical, way. With a lot of set manipulation in real-time alongside some fantastic puppetry work.
We enjoyed it a lot! It’s what the theatre is all about, buzzing with energy and providing a lot of scope for that there kind of British accents.
Ocean at the End of the Lane (theatre—minus any spoilers)
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is based on the 2013 novel by British author Neil Gaiman.
The plot involves a man who returns to Sussex for a funeral. But he ends up going to random scenes of his childhood and being drawn into an increasingly fantastical world.
That includes meeting three generations of enigmatic, powerful, and magical Hempstock farmhouse women who empower his life in all sorts of fancy new ways. If that makes no sense, then here’s the cast to explain it all.
The cast includes the stage actors Keir Ogilvy, Charlie Brooks, Trevor Fox, Kemi-Bo Jacobs, Millie Hikasa, and Finty Williams.
It’s a big cast, though, and very physically demanding for many of them.
Ocean at the End of the Lane is directed by Katy Rudd. There’s a real energy to what she does here, as the sets demand constant manipulation from the actors. Ogilvy is particularly active, having to pull doorways around on stage to manipulate sets into the new scenes. And then immediately acting within each new area.
There’s a Buster Keaton style of physicality there, with a sense of Vaudeville slapstick and the ingenuity required when dealing with set/technical limitations.
We’ve seen this done in previous productions, but it’s difficult to manage smoothly. And everyone involved makes it work a treat here.
It’s at its peak with a rather scary, awesome looking spider sort of puppet midway through. If you’ve seen War Horse on stage you’ll get the idea, but some understudy actors manipulate this thing and have it lurching around on stage.
That thing looks fantastic and adds an eerie edge to the plot development.
And we thing the key strength of The Ocean at the End of the Land is its appeal to all ages. Kids will love it (maybe even find it a little scary). Adults will also riff off the intelligence of the script and the playful performances.
Trevor Fox, for example, is great fun as the father of the film.
But to be clear, this play does deal with weighty themes. It’s not a lark in the park kind of whimsical play, there are existential themes and contemplations of death, suicide, and breakdowns of familial harmony.
We watched the play at the lovely Lowry theatre in Salford Quays of Manchester. But to be clear, it has a run across the UK for most of 2023. Check the National Theatre website for details on where it’s playing next, like.
It’s running right through towards the end of 2023, so if you’re in the UK try and make some time to see the play.
Well worth your time! Fantastical and entertaining, it’s a reminder of how relevant theatre remains in the world of entertainment. You really can’t beat that feeling of being there in the auditorium with actors live up on stage.