The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Review – Sheffield Lyceum
By Helen Johnston, May 2023
Memory can be a fickle thing and, as one of the characters in this fantastical trip down one man’s recollections tells us, no two people will remember an event the same way, even if they were both there.
Our memories play tricks on us based perhaps on what we want to remember, rather than what actually happened. Who was there with us, who said what, what the weather was like, what time of day it was… we decide these for ourselves as time passes.
We choose what to remember and our brains discard the rest, clearing space for fresh memories to be made. And it’s this which author Neil Gaiman explores so well in this, his most personal story, written for his wife to tell her something of his boyhood. It’s not autobiographical but tunes into childhood friendships, strained relationships with adults, fear, happiness, magic, and the belief in another world just beyond our own.
“Depths of possibilities”
The lane is the one which ran past Gaiman’s childhood home and led to an ancient farmhouse, where he imagined the ghosts of the original farmers still resided. This becomes the home of the other-worldly Hempstocks in Ocean at the End of the Lane.
Lettie (Millie Hikasa) is the young girl who befriends Boy (Keir Ogilvy) and encourages him to view the duck pond on the farm as an ocean containing vast depths of possibilities if only he’ll open his imagination to it.
Ogilvy puts in an incredible performance, rarely off stage he is the portal through which the fantastical merges with the mundanity of reality, and his energy never wavers. He must be exhausted at the end of every performance.
“Light and laughter”
Hikasa also shines as the fey friend who leads Boy into an adventure where he must confront his fears, learn to be strong, and understand the true nature of friendship. Her life of colourful clothes, a mystical grandmother, and a loving mum who makes delicious meals, contrasts sharply with the grey of Boy’s motherless existence.
Dad (an appropriately weary-looking Trevor Fox) trying his best as a single parent with money worries, always burning the toast because he’s in such a hurry every morning, and little Sis ((Laurie Ogden) adding some sibling rivalry. It’s no wonder Boy retreats into a world of books, escaping to Narnia and Alice’s wonderland.
New lodger Ursula, played by Charlie Brooks of Eastenders fame, appears at first to bring some light and laughter into the house, but nothing is as it seems. Brooks is captivating in a series of optical illusions which bring little gasps from the audience as they wonder, how did they do that?
The set designed by Fly Davis is a masterpiece, and the visual effects are truly stunning, creating an alternative reality for us to inhabit for a couple of hours as we’re taken to a place where fleas are monstrously huge, a hand emerges from the bath, and 50p coins appear mysteriously in mouths.
Some of those involved in this extraordinary feat are magic and illusions director and designer Jamie Harrison, lighting designer Paulie Constable and puppetry designer Finn Caldwell, with many more behind the scenes. The ensemble cast move effortlessly across the stage as they change the set from scene to scene, the choreography ensuring their appearance doesn’t detract from the action.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a reminder of how, as children, our imaginations are able to run riot, when the ordinary can become the extraordinary. Until, one day, we become the adults worrying about how to pay the bills, and burning the toast while we’re at it.
‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ is at Sheffield Lyceum until 20th May