In shows that could come under the promotional subheading ‘magical realism’, very few, if any, would come even as close to theatrical perfection as this touring production of The Ocean at the End of the Lane currently playing at Curve Leicester until 11th February 2023. It is a stonking good show and every seat in Curve, our ‘ theatre gem of the East Midlands’, needs to be filled with grateful audiences. This is a faultless piece of theatre par excellence. In terms of theatre-going anticipation it exceeds beyond all expectations.
The entire cast are superb and work their beautifully mysterious socks off from the sombre beginning to the very end. Like myself, there will be many in this packed audience tonight who do not want to this magnificent story-telling to end. I feel that this review, as it unfolds, will be almost deliberately short. Not that there isn’t plenty to say (there is oodles) but it is a case of me being scared of being Mr Spoiler Guy. I would rather not spoil your much-anticipated theatre visit by revealing too much about the supernatural story, Joel Horwood’s clever adaptation and the mightily impressive staging. Then there are the beyond clever illusions, brilliant acting, humour, dynamic lighting and sound and gut wrenching drama, that successfully brings Neil Gaiman’s book to the stage. My fervent wish is that in curtailing my effusive words I will not accidently dilute the experience for any punters who have wisely invested their pennies in coming to experience this National Theatre production. You get the picture? It’s bloody stunning…
In the opening night at Curve, Leicester born actor Daniel Cornish takes on the lead role of Boy; a role that is so physical and needs huge emotional investment to play the distressed and confused twelve year-old thrown into a strange dark world of the unknown and he nails it big time. The whole of Leicester seems to roar their approval as he joins this exemplary cast for their final bows. It is approval well-deserved as Cornish has smashed his likable character right out of the park into the ocean at the end of the lane. He has done so with subtlety, bravery, humour, talent and most importantly – trust in himself, his actions and trust in his fellow players. Cornish plays Alternate Boy three times a week and shares the role with Keir Ogilvy who performs five times a week.
Millie Hikasa as fellow protagonist Lettie Hempstock is perfect casting – at once very likeable and friendly as the young farm girl and then she gives us a good dollop of her dynamic energy as she and the boy go off on their adventure protecting their world from supernatural creatures she calls the Fleas.
As Ursula/Skartach the brilliant Charlie Brooks lights up the stage with her presence and unnerves us in equal measure with her characters’ other-worldly alchemy and subtly conveyed menace. Her ‘stay at home’ illusions with the boy are heart-stoppingly good- garnering gasps of disbelief from this enthralled audience.
Finty Williams is an acting revelation as Old Mrs Hempstock. She somehow conveys a wise old lady who is much more ancient and more powerful than her elderly physical appearance would have us believe. And Williams is very believable in doing so.
A 2018/19 graduate of the National Youth Theatre Rep company Laurie Ogden plays Sis to a tee and is also part of the dynamic ensemble. Kemi-Bo Jacobs as the Hempstock mother Ginny rounds up the main female cast with a solid performance as another of the kindly and yet mysterious Hempstock family.
Trevor Fox has a dual role as the older ‘Boy’ returning for his father’s funeral in the opening of the play and also that of the Boy’s father, a man who can burn toast to a crisp on a regular basis but struggles with being a father to his young son and daughter after the death of his wife and their mother. That is until he enlists the help of the beautiful Ursula… Fox excels in both roles with his credible naturalistic acting and story-telling abilities.
In some plays the ‘ensemble players’, those extra to the main cast, can be seen as important to the story-telling but not overly integral. In The Ocean at the End of the Lane the ensemble are totally vital to this style of theatrical experience and seriously integrated in their roles as fellow facilitators to the character’s moods, as demons from hell, as swift scene changers and artistically gifted physical theatre practitioners. Many of them are cast as understudies to the main roles. They are: Emma-Jane Goodwin, Paolo Guido, Lewis Howard, Jasmeen James, Ronnie Lee, Aimee McGoldrick, Domonic Ramsden, Joe Rawlinson Hunt, and Risha Silvera.
The National Theatre’s touring production of The Ocean at the End of the Lane is directed by Katy Rudd from an adaptation by Joel Harwood. Set design is by Fly Davis, Samuel Wyer is costume and puppet designer, Stephen Moggatt is the movement director and Jherek Bischoff is the production’s composer. Lighting designer is Paule Constable and sound design is created by Ian Dickinson (for Autograph) and the production magic and illusions director and designer is Jamie Harrison. Finn Caldwell is puppetry director.
Well, this review turned out to be longer than anticipated but I do sincerely hope that I have helped to convince you that The Ocean at the End of the Lane on tour is most definitely one dynamically theatrical show that you should drag your purse or wallet kicking and screaming to the box office and book yourselves a thrilling time at Curve. You won’t regret it.Please check show advice on flashing lights, loud noises etc