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BWW Review: THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE, National Theatre

BWW Review: THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE, National Theatre

BWW Review: THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE, National TheatreA man, prompted by his father's funeral, revisits his past, a rural haunt where he played as a boy with a mysterious girl. It's familiar, but different; comforting, but strangely disquieting. The girl is long gone, but it feels like she's still there. The old woman who runs the farm seems unchanged, as enigmatic as ever. What happened? Is the memory playing tricks - or is this just how memory works?

There's much of this philosophical stuff in the (excellent as ever) NT programme, but it gets lost a little in the spectacle - director Katy Rudd, set designer Fly Davis and movement director Steven Hoggett are the real stars of this ensemble piece. Kids (and, let's face it, adults too) who have grown up with cinema's CGI SFXfests will love it and some of the older types who can recall the work of Ray Harryhausen in movies like Jason and the Argonauts will recognise a look too in the jerky, scary puppets.

With all that going on, the actors have plenty to do to be noticed at all, but Samuel Blenkin beautifully captures the awkwardness of an 11 year-old bookworm (that part at least we can credit to the autobiographical element of Neil Gaiman's source novel), and Jade Croot gives a tremendous turn as the little sister you don't really want, but love anyway.

Justin Salinger conveys the not-quite-managing single dad with an understated charm, and the three un-ageing farmhouse women (Josie Walker, Carlyss Peer and a sweetly innocent Marli Siu) just about get away with an irritating unwillingness to say exactly what they know - even if the kids are in mortal danger, and accents lay on the whimsy a little too heavily.

Gaiman is probably bulletproof as an author, so Joel Harwood's adaptation is probably bulletproof too - the theatrical elements are thrilling, after all - but this reviewer never engaged with the story. Just when the relationship stuff was warming up, a monster would emerge (though it's a tremendous turn from Pippa Nixon as the Dolores Umbridge-like human form of the terrifying "flea") and the moment would be lost. There's a bit too much science thrown in too - quantum multiverses, wormholes, energy's persistence. It feels rather A Brief History of Time 1989-ish.

What emerges is something of the bucolic one finds in Tolkien and something of the slipping realities one finds in Philip K Dick - both somehow diminished in the uneasy union. Fans will love it, of course - there was almost a standing ovation at the interval on press night - but I was left as unmoved as I am by orcs and goblins.

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane continues in the Dorfman Theatre until 25 January, 2020.

Photo Manuel Harlan

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From This Author Gary Naylor