Review of 'The Ocean at the End of the Lane'


This is the National Theatre's stage adaptation of Neil Gaiman's book The Ocean at the End of the Lane telling the story of a boy (played by an incredibly talented Tom Mackley) who witnesses a fatal accident near to a local farm. On the property he meets Old Mrs. Hempstock (Penny Layden) as well as Ginnie Hempstock (Subhan Harrison) and daughter Lettie (Nia Towle) with whom he quickly establishes a friendship. Lettie shows the boy the somewhat magical ocean and explains that the accident may have attracted a “flea” - a mystical creature bared from entering our world by the ocean. A short time later the two are attacked by a hideous flea who places a portal on the boy's hand allowing the creature to enter our world as a woman Ursula (Laura Rogers) that quickly turns the boy's father (Nicholas Tennant) and sister (Grace Hogg-Robinson) against him. When the boy is confined to his bedroom it seems the likelihood of sending the flea back to where it has come is very slim indeed…

This has to be the best stage show I have seen with an absolutely incredible story, amazing stagecraft and compelling performances by the cast. Sure it has elements of the fantastic but at it's heart the play is about a young boy trying to make sense of his world and reconnect with his distraught widower father. In this the characters are perfectly cast with incredible actors delivering dialogue that sounds very real, that is, it does not sound like they are reading lines, it sounds like they are just talking like normal people (!) would talk.

We have to talk about the staging - The stage is surrounded by the winding branches of the farm's wood, providing a clearing for the action to take place. Set elements such as beds and tables are rolled on and off the stage very quickly by a stage crew that make little attempt to hide and, indeed, at points play a role in the action as they knowingly stop to see whether they can take the furniture off for the action to progress. This is staging at it's most whimsical and witty. Often doors and other elements will silently rise out of the stage floor leaving us with a sense of unease as our reality bends…what was once nothing is now a door, a seat…

The choreography is absolutely incredible with amazing intricacy. As massive, magical creatures tower over the stage the actors manage to hit all of their complicated marks perfectly, utterly convincing the audience of the fantastic events unfolding. At points puppetry continues the action into the fantastic but this is handled with great sensitivity and only jars the viewer for a second or two before they are once again drawn into the story. In parts the action goes beyond the bounds of the stage as creatures roam the aisles and the gossamer sheets of the ocean fly above the heads of the audience.

This is not a show for young children with many quite horrific elements on the stage such as arms coming out of doors, and bathtub drains. The creatures are also quite horrific with no cuteness in any way. Yes, it is fantasy, but this is most definitely not suitable for the young.

A fantastic story from a great writer, an amazing cast and staging that is simply jaw-dropping. Utterly compelling and amazing from start to finish. We only attended having read some positive reviews and we are very glad indeed we did: Utterly incredible and a must see.

The play is approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes including a 15 minute interval.

Rating: “I have absolutely no complaints”

Review Date: 2022-01-13

The Duke of York's Theatre

Location: London (England)

Address: St Martin's Ln, London WC2N 4BG ENGLAND

Public Transport: TUBE Leicester Square

Telephone: +44 (0) 333 009 6690


A small theatre set across the street from the Coliseum on St. Martin's Lane. Street level provides access to the Royal Circle (first balcony) while access to the stalls and Circle (second balcony) is via stairs. There is a small kiosk on the ground floor selling snacks and souvenirs.