Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane brings wonder and darkness to Milton Keynes Theatre

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Alan Wooding reviews The Ocean at the End of the Lane at Milton Keynes Theatre

I was not familiar with Neil Gaiman’s novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane, so it was with slight trepidation that I took my seat at Milton Keynes Theatre last night to see an acclaimed National Theatre touring production of this somewhat complex stage show.

There’s certainly more than a touch of Harry Potter in this fantasy tale which has a dark and sinister undercurrent. It starts with the police investigating a suicide, the deceased being the lodger of a family which some 12 months earlier had lost its mother.

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Boy (Keir Ogilvy) and his sister (Laurie Ogden) are still getting over the loss while their cash-strapped Dad (Trevor Fox) is suggesting they need another lodger to help with the family finances.

Millie Hikasa (Lettie) and Keir Ogilvy (Boy) in The Ocean at the End of the Lane (photo: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg)Millie Hikasa (Lettie) and Keir Ogilvy (Boy) in The Ocean at the End of the Lane (photo: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg)
Millie Hikasa (Lettie) and Keir Ogilvy (Boy) in The Ocean at the End of the Lane (photo: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg)

The ‘cean’ is in fact a Sussex village duck pond while the action takes place mainly in and around Hempstock Farm. We’re transported back to Boy’s 12th birthday and his meeting with Lettie Hempstock (Millie Hikasa), her mother Ginnie (Kemi-Bo Jacobs) and Old Mrs Hempstock (Finty Williams).

There are dark secrets surrounding the farm but when Lettie take Boy by the hand with strict instructions not to let go, they pass through a portal into a different universe where a demon enters his body via a flea bite after he releases his grip. It leads to a worm-like creature being pulled from the palm of his hand and in turn it releases the monster Skarthach.

It would be wrong to throw in a spoiler at this stage but Skarthach is in fact the evil Ursula who turn out to be the family’s new lodger. Played by ex-EastEnders’ actor Charlie Brooks, she has the family under her spell and as if by magic, she appears then disappears through a series of doorways making your eyes dart around the stage in wonderment.

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There are references to The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as Boy loses himself in time-travelling books while the huge monster puppets with their long tendrils appear to cover the entire stage.

Charlie Brooks plays (as expected) a truly menacing role as Ursula who takes over the family household while Keir Ogilvy and Millie Hikasa excel as Boy and Lettie respectively. However, there seems to be an awful lot of shouting in the general dialogue with Dad often at full cry with a heavy Geordie accent while all the Hempstocks sound as if they live in rural Devon rather than Sussex.

There’s an amazing busy set created by Fly Rudd while the costumes and puppets are courtesy of Samuel Wyer. Meanwhile it’s the music and extra sounds that are incredibly powerful, as are some of the outstanding special effects – and not forgetting the burnt toast and steaming hot water. But be warned, ‘Ocean’ is clearly not for the faint-hearted!

The Ocean at the End of the Lane runs at plays Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday July 1. Tickets cost from £13 before fees. Call 0844 871 7615 or visit to book.

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