The Ocean at the End of the Lane Review

Sunderland Empire – until Saturday 4 March 2023


The much anticipated Nation Theatre production of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane arrives at the Sunderland Empire on its UK tour.

Katy Rudd’s outstanding direction, Fly Davis’ ethereal set and Jherek Bischoff’s musical composition are the firm foundations from which the powerful production builds.

Visiting Hempstock farm to reminisce after his fathers funeral, middle aged Boy manages to open repressed and forgotten memories of his 12th birthday and his first visit to the Farm…

When the police find the family car, stolen by their lodger (now dead in the car), by Hempstock farm.  Boy (Keir Ogilvy) meets Lettie (Millie Hikasa) for the first time, taking him to the farm while his dad deals with the police.  His mum has been dead for less than a year and his dad is struggling to raise boy and his sister.  The family are in need of money, hence the lodger and they are grieving for their loss.

The Hempstock women, Letty, Mum Ginnie (Kemi-Bo Jacobs) and Old Mrs Hempstock (Flinty Williams) are representative of the three ages of women – child, mother and cone.  And whilst they might not recognise themselves as witches, they are certainly magical.  

At the edge of the farm, Letty and Boy discover a monster trying to find its way onto the world.  Whilst Letty performs magic and incantations to send the creature back to its own world, it attacks Boy and gains a way into his.

And so appears Ursula, the new lodger, pure evil and dark magic.  Charlie Brooks excels in the role and appears to be fully enjoying the malevolence, totally commanding the stage with her interpretation of something demonic and manipulative

I’m not going to give away the plot except to say that good does triumph over evil.

Trevor Fox as Dad is another standout, totally broken but trying to raise the children with love he no longer feels and trying to make up for a mother who is no longer there.  His demonic possession when he falls under Ursula’s spell and redemption when she is gone gives him a chance to shine. 

The ensemble players are a joy to watch, balletic and fluid; their movements are as spellbinding as Old Mrs Hempstock and her snip and stitch. Steven Hoggett’s movement direction is cleverly conceived and utilised.

This is a beautiful production of play.  Not just a children’s story but one for all the family.  The poignancy and joy, the light and shade and the eternal triumph of good over evil make this an unforgettable experience.