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Monday, 30 January 2023

REVIEW: The Ocean at the End of the Lane at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking

The National Theatre’s extraordinary production of The Ocean at the End of the Lane continues its UK tour at Woking’s New Victoria Theatre before heading off to another twenty-seven venues through September. Rarely will you see such a brilliant theatrical stage magic experience in these regional theatres as in this production with its exquisite lighting design, beautifully conceived and executed magical illusions and thrilling performances. They create an ethereal world where reality and mysticism merge in an exploration on our childhood memories and fears and of the heartbreak of death and passing over to the afterworld. 

Neil Gaiman’s book which has been adapted for the stage by Joel Harwood explicitly draws inspiration from the books we see and hear the boy reading in the play. The classic stories of Alice in Wonderland, The Lion and the witch and the wardrobe and Peter Pan all revolve around children on the edge of adolescence who discover an alternative world down a rabbit hole, through a wardrobe or by a flight across London and this book explores the same life transition through its own portal to the alternative world, in this case, the ocean at the end of the lane (a farmyard pond!). Are the alternative world and the family and creatures the boy meets real or just a product of his vivid imagination and swirling hormones? We hear the story from the grown-up boy returning to the area he lived in for a funeral and having his memories jogged by meeting Old Mrs Hempstock, a wonderfully charismatic Finty Williams with strong echoes of her own mother, Dame Judi Dench in her performance. We learn he has returned before, but he has no memories of that until prompted. 
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