I have a few stock phrases I’m only too conscious that I find myself rolling out time and time again.
But I’ve realised I was when I was younger. Looking back and triggered by last night’s proceedings, I really was.
Enid Blyton was my gateway and unlocked my imagination. And I believed in Magic Faraway Trees, Wishing Chairs, Enchanted Woods and midnight feasts (the ultimate fantasy! Just hold the mayo and potted shrimp).
Roald Dahl was delivering oversized fruit, death by confectionary and wizened old witches galore.
Stephen King dealt me killer clowns, telekinetic teens and crazed caretakers.
Neil Gaiman. Well for some reason I hit my twenties and I didn’t do fantasy tomes, TV, films or theatre. The latter has picked up in recent years, I’ve even read a Neil Gaiman novel (Book Clubs – pushing us out of our comfort zones since forever).
I did my research like a good little blogger and discovered that Gaiman wrote Ocean at the End of the Lane for his now ex-wife and musician, Amanda Palmer. And if I’m further to believe the internet, she didn’t “really like fantasy”.
Adapted for stage by writer Joel Horwood, and directed by Katy Rudd, I’m not close enough to the text to know how this fact influenced the original story and how close to the text the adaptation was…but it doesn’t matter and maybe I’ve always liked fantasy after all. I’ve just been too busy entrenched in kitchen-sink dramatics and gritty dialogue for too long.
I really enjoyed this play.
A story of time-travel, repressed memories, life, death and even suicide, the plot isn’t messing about. And neither are the production values.
As the set transformed from scene to scene (as they tend to, granted) a door often taking centre-stage framed by a magical glow (giving me strong Dana’s fridge vibes – if you know you know), we were taken on an adventure from present time back to 1983 to…I want to say beyond but I think it goes even beyond this.
We had the kitchen sink (well the table and cooker) and we had woodland and ocean (take cover those seated in the stalls), family quarrels and forest dwelling fleas (you’ll see).
The story and accompanying scenes delivered the jarring (yet reassuringly classical) juxtaposition of the seemingly routine, mundane and domestic alongside the other-worldly, the ‘what-ifs’ and the temptation to imagine what if everything you thought you knew was somehow…other. And you’d just forgotten.
The lighting and choreography were hypnotic. The score was synthesiser and electro-heavy, if we were in any doubt that we were entering classic 80s fantasy and sci-fi.
The effects were special (there were audible gasps, my friends) and the puppetry sequence charming. This is a device I’m seeing introduced to more and more productions and really lends another layer to dream-like sequences which call upon the audience to suspend particular disbelief, helping them along the way.
It’s difficult to separate out the cast other than simply by the roles that they played. Brilliant chemistry between all and instrumental in making the unbelievable believable.
Although (spoiler) Millie Hikasa (Lettie) practically had me in mourning, so taken by her performance was I.
You have the opportunity to see The Ocean at the End of the Lane at The Lowry until 8 January 2023. Take it if you can.
Especially if, like me, you’re a lover of fantasy (but had simply just forgotten).
And if you’re wondering, Charlie Brooks as Ursula was deliciously devilish, just as you would imagine.
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