The Ocean At The End Of The Lane, Theatre Review, Grand Opera House, Belfast, March 21st, 2023

By Conor O’Neill

The National Theatre has brought The Ocean At The End Of The Road to Belfast’s Grand Opera House; quite an apt and sumptuous setting for this flight of fancy and wicked imagination. Where memory and imagination meet, or depart, is at the sweet essence of this production.

If I’ve one regret about last night is I didn’t read the book before seeing the play. Based on Neil Gaiman’s book of the same name, this is a soaring tale of love, trust and loss, fear, courage and self belief.

The Grand Opera House is famed for its calendar of big name, seats-on-bums cert-full-houses musicals; so when a play comes along you know it’s going to be top drawer. What do you want from a play? A stirring plot? Check. Big visuals? Check. A haunting theme where everyone forms a different opinion? Check again. In two hours you’ll witness everything a play can be expected to deliver.

General gist is this. A man, dad is his name (Trevor Fox) goes back to his hometown to attend a funeral anad returns to his old neighbourhood and takes a walk to the pond at the end of the lane. A pond as an adult it may be, but his 12-year-old self remembers it as an ocean And from here it goes wildly off piste.

Dad, now boy (Daniel Cornish) meets the Hempstocks, Lettie (Millie Hikasa), her mother Ginnie (Kemi-Bo Jacobs) and the star of the show, Old Mrs Hempstock played by the uber-talented Finty Williams. Asked what age she is she replies, “I remember when the moon was made.”

There’s a touching quality in the relationship between Lettie and Boy. The former being assertive, fearless and otherworldly. Boy, on the other hand is doubtful, passive and deliberate. The two are chalk and cheese yet seem perfectly suited. Not that there’s romance on the table, they seem to bring out the best in each other: plus there arebigger issues to tackle.

Flitting between the magical and the mundane, Boy has arguments with his dad, tiffs with his sister (Laurie Ogden) and a frosty relationship with the nanny/lodger Ursula (Jasmeen James). But is Ursula all she seems to be? Reality and surrealist multiverses collide and one could be forgiven for not knowing exactly what’s going on at times. And that seems what the book’s adaptor Joel Horwood would like the audience to feel. The certainty of the uncertain is exactly what The Ocean At The End Of The Lane is all about. That and the eternal battle between good and evil.

What’s really worthy of note is the set changes and talents of the ensemble. Director Katy Rudd and movement director Steven Hoggett truly bring set designer Fly Davis’s offering to life. Of all the name characters, the ensemble’s use of space and movement, the set, lighting and sound are arguably this performance’s unsung heroes. The use of puppetry and understated prop work is a show in itself.

By the way, the show was of such intrigue I couldn’t help myself from going out to buy the book. That’s how good it is.

This is one show you’d be mad to miss.

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane runs at the Grand Opera House up to and including Saturday, March 25, 2023. To book your tickets visit or simply phone the box office on 02890 241919.

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