Review: Ocean At the End Of The Lane at Sunderland Empire

Review: Ocean At the End Of The Lane at Sunderland Empire

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a fantasy/horror modern day fairy story from the brilliant mind of Neil Gaiman. It tells the story of a 12 year old boy who unwittingly releases a dreadful creature from the edge of reality and has to enlist the help of his best friend and her family, who have secrets of their own, to save humanity from total annihilation. The play is skilfully adapted from Gaiman’s novel by Joel Horwood and with direction from Katy Rudd the audience is transported to a world full of danger, magic and wonder.

The cast of this touring production is outstanding and all worktirelessly from the opening to the magical finale at the end. Our hero ‘Boy’ is played by Kier Ogilvy and he is very endearing as the bookish nerd devastated by the death of his mother before the action begins. Contrasting him as the delightfully headstrong Lettie Hemstock is Millie Hikasa whose knowledge and understanding of the world around her belies her age as a contemporary of the boy.

Her family consisting of a hardworking mother (Kemi-Bo Jacobs) and a feisty and occasional cantankerous grandmother is as endearing as they are individually mysterious. 

Finty Williams as the grandmother The Old Mrs Hemstock has all the best lines and is adorable as the irascible old woman and plays her with a necessary and all-knowing glint in her eye. For his part,our boy, has a father played with extraordinary ease by Trevor Fox of Billy Elliot fame and a rather precocious and slightly annoying sister played by Laurie Ogden. 

The aforementioned dreadful creature in her human form is played menacingly by Charlie Brooks, arguably best known for, and presumably drawing from, her role as the scheming and thoroughly nasty character of Janine Butcher in Eastenders. 

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a National Theatre Production and it does not let anyone down with the values, set, lighting design and trickery that anyone who has seen one of their productions has come to expect. This production does not just marvel the senses, it tickles the funny bones, amazes both audibly and visually and even has a few more tricks up its sleeve to keep the audience in awe, amazed and ultimately satisfied. The set before the action even starts is jaw-droppingly impressive and mysterious alluding to the magic and wonder about to unfold before the audience’s eyes.  

Neil Gaiman does not conform to standards when it comes to his stories and with outer worldly beings, flesh eating meta-foul and strange women turning up in the most unexpected of places, the creative team had their work cut out to bring this well-crafted story of self-discovery and ultimately redemption to life – and bring it to life they did.

The magic of Gaiman’s novel appears before us with some outstanding stage trickery(directed and designed by Jamie Harrison) and exceptional lighting design (Paule Constable) that has to be seen to get the full glory of the amount of work that has obviously gone in to bring this from the page to the stage. I saw thison the West End last year and this production certainly does not pale in comparison in any regard and is all the better for the absence of tube trains running beneath the theatre in the quiet bits.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane enthrals at The Sunderland Empire Theatre until Saturday 4th March and gives its audience a horror story, a graphic novel, a stage play and a cautionary tale all in one and it is not to be missed. 

. Tickets are available from the Ticket Centre on 0844 871 7615* or online at

*A £3.65 transaction fee applies to telephone and online bookings. Calls cost up to 7p per minute plus your standard network charge. 

Reviewed by Stephen Stokoe

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