REVIEW: The Ocean at the End of the Lane at Wolverhampton Grand

We reviewed the current production of 'Ocean at the End of the Lane' earlier in its run. This review is an updated version of a previously published one.

Quite often, the productions that stick in your mind are the big West End musical transfers with the glitz and glamour and the infectious soundtrack. However, every now and again something so incredibly special creeps onto the stage that blows you away. Right now, that show is The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

When I first saw this production a few months back, I was dumbstruck. Ocean is a stunning piece of theatre that ticks so many boxes on a multitude of levels. So to be given the privilege to catch it again is very, very special.

Based on the best-selling novel by Neil Gaiman, and produced by the team behind War Horse and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, the story is a thrilling adventure of fantasy, myth and friendship, taking audiences on an epic journey to a childhood once forgotten and the darkness that lurks at the very edge of it. 

Returning to his childhood home, a man finds himself standing beside the pond of the old Sussex farmhouse where he used to play. He's immediately transported to his 12th birthday when his remarkable friend Lettie claimed it wasn't a pond, but an ocean –a place where everything is possible.

Plunged into a magical world, their survival depends on their ability to reckon with ancient forces that threaten to destroy everything around them.

The story brings about as many questions as it does answers, examining themes of self-identity and the disconnect between childhood and adulthood. Indeed, whilst the story is an immersive masterpiece, there is some question about whether any of it ever actually happened - or if it was all in the childhood mind of the protagonists. Are our ‘heroes’ fighting oppression in a mythical world or is this just a story a couple of kids dreamt up being told to the masses? 

But whatever your conclusion about the plot, the only conclusion about the production is that Ocean is a masterpiece, in every sense of the word.

The set, sound and lighting design are exquisite, both individually and as a collective. With just simple additions of furniture and a soundboard of effects, the aesthetic on stage was a feast for the eyes. However it's during the chaos of Ursula's arrival that the trio move to the next level, with doors appearing and blackouts and strobing messing with your understanding of logic.

However, as is the case with so many similar pieces, it was the performers who stood out above all else. With a well rehearsed and perfectly executed performance, so reliant on tight choreography and an on stage chemistry, each and every one was part of a well oiled machine which didn't miss a beat.

Charlie Brooks took on the role of Ursula, the lodger who moved in with the family and turned out to be the boy's worst nightmare! Maybe it's thanks to her time on EastEnders, but Brooks has this uncanny knack of playing 'evil' incredibly well. In what appeared to be an effortless performance, her characterisation was exceptional as if the role could have been written for her. In fact, I'd go so far as to say - in true fine wine style - Brooks interpretation had benefitted from the chance to mature bringing a palpable comfort in her interpretation. To all intent and purpose it feels like she's settled into the role and is able to enjoy the part more and more.

Millie Hikasa and Daniel Cornish took on the roles of Lettie and the boy respectively and had an undeniable bond from their first encounter. Striking a perfect balance between trust, compassion and the chaos of friendship, they made you question the right things and took you on an incredible journey at the same time.

Special mention goes to Finty Williams as Old Mrs Hempstock; a role that could be likened to being the Dumbledore of the story. Playing a matriarch figure who ultimately showcased their true power to save the day, Williams excelled and perfectly bookended a story arc which, subtly, was as much about her character as it was the younger leads. Williams has a brilliant ability to flick between humour and mystery in the blink of an eye and her character personifies so many emotions throughout the piece it's a testament to her skill as a performer.

Put simply, I can't wax lyrical about this show too much. Everything about Oceans was an absolute joy and showcased what I honestly think is the best of British theatre. If I could sit in the audience every night for the rest of the run, I don't think I could possibly get bored, such are the nuances and the quality of the performance, coupled with some visually incredible illusion.

Plus, if anyone can explain how Charlie Brooks can split herself into four, I'd be much obliged!

The Ocean at the End of the Lane runs at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre until Saturday 30 September May. For more information, or to get your tickets, visit

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