Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Duke of York's Theatre, West End)

Posted on 5 November 2021

It is great getting back to the theatre – there is nothing quite like the experience and this is certainly one to go to if you like a full-on fantasy fiction experience.

Following a sold out run at the National Theatre, the acclaimed production of The Ocean at the End of the Lane has transferred to the West End. Neil Gaiman is a multi-skilled writer, not just an icon in the mystery fiction world but also established in producing comic books, graphic novels, non-fiction and film. His imagination is, to be honest, rambling and clever and scary and impressive in equal parts and the adaptation of this novel as a stage play was a challenge well executed.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a play based on Gaiman's novel, of the same name, which caused a stir when it was published. I can see why. The Telegraph called it “Spellbinding” and this is not an exaggeration. It is all about storytelling, and the clever way this has been adapted draws the audience in. I have been accused of having a short attention span at times but this intrigued me and I soon began to feel part of the story - terrified at times and wanting to give the actors a hug at others.

The play begins when a man returns to his childhood home and finds himself standing talking to an old neighbour beside the pond of the old Sussex farmhouse where he used to play. He’s cleverly transported to his 12-year-old self, remembering the beautiful/scary/surreal relationship he had with his friend Lettie. All of a sudden they are in a mystical place, fighting for their lives, though he struggles to understand what the rules of the game are and how they can stay safe. Lettie, on the other hand, seems more than worldly-wise – almost as if she had been around for a very long time…

The props and special effects are really impressive (think Warhorse meets dragon on a sugar rush) and the spellbinding sets are very clever, transforming from a warm farmhouse to a dark nightmare landscape.

A visit to this theatre is a treat in itself. The Duke of York’s Theatre opened in 1892 and has housed acclaimed productions since, such as King Lear, and played host to many famous names, including Sir Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom, Michael Gambon and Jeremy Irons. You can almost feel it in the bones of the building, with its quirky seating and intimate feel. The staff feel more like a group of friends ready to welcome you, and they managed to get everyone in very efficiently, despite the extra checks.

Not usually the genre I would choose but I thought I would give it a try and wasn’t disappointed. Go see this if you like scary magical tales, great storytelling, and a skilled cast of well-chosen actors who will transport you effortlessly to a make-believe nightmare.

Tickets for The Ocean at the End of the Lane at the West End's Duke of York's Theatre are booking until 24 April 2022.

Carole Lovstrom

By Carole Lovstrom

Carole has been interested in theatre and circus for many years. She now blogs for View From the Cheap Seats and London Theatre Direct when she gets the chance.