As part of its first ever UK tour, The Ocean at the End of the Lane comes to The Alhambra where Leo Owen caught the show

Adapted from a 2013 Neil Gaiman book by Joel Horwood, The Ocean at the End of the Lane combines signature National Theatre aesthetics with Gaiman’s quirky story-telling. Reminiscent of Stranger Things in look, feel and soundtrack, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, starts with a funeral forcing the protagonist (Trevor Fox) to return to his home town where a chance encounter prompts him to remember his 12th birthday and the series of extraordinary events that followed.

Fly Davis’ design is visually arresting with an impenetrable backdrop of gnarled hedges and trellises in a sinister nod to Gaiman’s dark tone as two deaths are announced in the opening scene alone. Questioning how reliable memories are, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, is a semi-autobiographical piece, written for Gaiman’s wife, Amanda Palmer. Clearly very loosely factual, it incorporates monsters, sorcery and portals to other worlds with friendship and family tragedy.

Katy Rudd’s direction nicely complements Davis’ set and Samuel Wyer’s costumes and puppetry, creating an ambience both eerie and enchanting. Stage crew act as obstacles to conquer while also visibly acknowledging the action on the stage, adding to the magical quality of the play. Enormous raggedy crow like creatures with a menacing female voice-over (“Little girl, your people ripped a hole in forever”) loom over the protagonist (Keir Ogilvy), there’s a slow-motion fight scene, a nightmare sequence as illuminated door frames multiple and a bloody hand emerges from a bath tub. The creepiest direction, however, undoubtedly comes from an arm suddenly appearing through the sleeve of a hanging dressing gown.

Ex-EastEnders star, Charlie Brooks (Janine Butcher) is truly menacing, accompanied by unnerving music, flashing lightening and heartbeat sound effects. The enigmatic Hempstocks are her polar opposite, either light and floaty (Finty Williams as the eccentric “Old Mrs H), colourful (Millie Hikasa playing Lettie) or welcoming earth mothers (Kemi-Bo Jacobs).

Visually beautiful and alluring, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, is bewitching for adults and teens alike, slickly brought to life by an equally talented cast, garnering a well-deserved standing ovation. Long may this production tour.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane showed at The Alhambra April 5th-8th before continuing its tour of the UK: