The Ocean at the End of the Lane was adapted for stage by Joel Horwood, taking Neil Gaiman’s 2013 novel of the same name and transforming it into a haunting and brilliant production. The story follows the protagonist, whose name is not given, as he recalls the perilous and otherworldly events following his twelfth birthday.
I went to see the production at the Noёl Coward Theatre in London, having read the book a number of years ago. What I had retained of the story primarily related to the sense of childhood nightmares and anxieties realised, blurring the boundary between the imagined and the corporeal. This was translated perfectly onto the stage production, which succeeded in the task of making physical representations of the horrors described in the book through the use of puppets and visual trickery. This worked in congruence with immersive and unsettling sound design, comparable perhaps to Stranger Things. Overall, these aspects created a seamless impression of horror.
[A] sense of childhood nightmares and anxieties realised, blurring the boundary between the imagined and the corporeal
The show displayed a cognisance of its own construction, with the stagehands behaving also as performers. When Lettie invites the protagonist to come over, they hesitate in putting the furniture down to create the set of her house, waiting on him to agree. There’s also a tentative moment, where the protagonist’s father stops in the doorway before returning to pick up a letter addressed to his late wife from the kitchen table – here, the stagehands hold off to facilitate this moment, showing an awareness of his emotional situation. Stagehands are a building block of theatre production, so to see them used to enhance the performance was brilliant; an acknowledgement of the stage production format without compromising engagement.
Much like the book it was adapted from, Joel Harwood’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane succeeds in being whimsical and funny, yet simultaneously bone-chilling. The smoke-and-mirrors of the production created some truly haunting moments, leaving the audience to wonder how such effects were achieved. Characters disappeared and were transported as if by magic; disembodied hands reached from furniture. The plot pivots on a complicated relationship between a boy and his father through the experience of coming-of-age, all embedded in the allegorical presence of preternatural forces. I would be eager to agree with the production’s 100+ five-star reviews: the brilliance of the show cannot be overstated.