ocean at the end of the lane review

Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane, New Wimbledon Theatre

Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane, New Wimbledon Theatre

A spectacular theatrical adventure.


The unnamed protagonist arrives at a funeral. He stumbles upon two peculiar women and begins to recollect what happened in this very place three decades ago. He just turned twelve, his mother had passed away a year earlier, and his father’s lodger just committed suicide in the family car. Restless, he encounters Lettie Hempstock, a girl seemingly more or less his age and who insists that a little duckpond behind her farm is an ocean. All of a sudden, coins start appearing in manners as unexpected as they are unpleasant and Lettie and her family inform the boy that the “Flea” – a creature stuck between two realities – wants to come into their world. Lettie attempts to bind it but the Flea bites into the boy’s hand and subsequently appears in his house as a new lodger.  

The first scene turns into something of an absurd comedy, setting the tone for the rest of the play – is what we see, real, or is it just the imagination of a young boy, coping with loneliness and possibly, abuse? And does it even matter? The play answers the last question – it does not. Dreams are part of reality, too. And, as one of the play’s most poignant quotes has it, “You do not pass or fail at being a person.”

As far as technical prowess goes, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is spectacular. The elements of horror meddle with the fairytale narrative to weave a masterful tapestry of colour, sound and dance. Black-clothed “hunger birds” – mysterious creatures summoned by Lettie to deal with Ursula – engage in a psychotic, fervent dance; a massive puppet with a mass of tangled limbs roams the stage, hunting the Boy to jump into his world; a bloody hand emerges from a bathtub as the Boy attempts to remove the worm Flea infected him with. It is not exactly for the faint of heart, especially amongst the youngest audience members, but you wouldn’t expect any less from Neil Gaiman anyway.  

Millie Hikasa is outstanding as Lettie. In a role that requires both physicality and emotional resilience, she creates a young heroine who is both admirable and likeable. Keir Ogilvy as the Boy is present on stage almost the entire time and carries the show with vigour and youthful intensity. Charlie Brooks (of the Janine Butcher fame, here as the Flea, Ursula) is part-glam, part-terrifying and embodies all the dream-like (nightmare-like?) qualities of the Boy’s imagination. Finty Williams (whom I interviewed for the show) is fantastic as the mysterious, shamanistic Old Mrs Hempstock.  

If the show lacks anything at all, it is emotional depth between the two protagonists in the script, and this one flaw makes the ending not as heart-gripping as it could have been. But The Ocean remains a spectacular theatrical adventure nevertheless.  

New Wimbledon Theatre, until 15 April

Image: Finty Williams (Old Mrs Hempstock) and Millie Hikasa (Lettie) in The Ocean at the End of the Lane. c. Brinkhoff-Moegenburg