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REVIEW: The Ocean at the End of the Lane at Sunderland Empire

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Sunderland Empire

Until Saturday 4 March 2023

Tickets: *

The National Theatre return to the region with a fine slice of Neil Gaiman dark fantasy. It is wonderful to see a show that will engage with teens that are often forgotten in theatre shows. It has plenty to entertain mature audiences too. A lot of thought has gone into staging this magnificent show. I had heard wholly positive reviews by those who had seen it and I fully understand why they gushed their praise.

Finty Williams (Old Mrs Hempstock) and Trevor Fox (Dad) 
Photo: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg

But here comes a problem, dear reader. Normally at this point I come up with a pithy synopsis of how the first 20 minutes sent up the next 2 hours of action. The trouble is this is going to be vague as much of the initial plot unfolds in the final third of the show…and I don't do spoilers.

Millie Hikasa (Lettie) and Keir Ogilvy (Boy) 
Photo: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg
So here goes the plot. Someone turns up at his Dad's funeral. They are unnamed throughout the script. They meet up with an elderly neighbour who remembers him, and his father.

Aimee McGolderick (cover Sis), Charlie Brooks (Ursula), Trevor Fox (Dad)
Photo: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg

The story then moves back to the early 80s. The lad (Keir Oglivy) is now a boy, living with his Dad (Trevor Fox) and sister (Laurie Ogden), making his own entertainment by reading books.He meets up with the daughter of his neighbour, Lettie Hempstock (Millie Hikasa) and the strike up a friendship. She describes the pond at the end of the lane as an ocean.
In one incident he removes a worm from his hand. He goes back to meet her family that consists of mother Ginnie (Kemi-Bo Jacobs) and grandmother Old Mr Hempstock (Finty Williams). When he returns home his dad has introduced a new lady to look after them, Ursula (Charlie Brooks). He takes an instant dislike to her.

Photo: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg

At this point some may say the story goes down a dark Roald Dahl route. More Tales of the Unexpected than the kids stuff. For me the ensembles stagecraft and puppetry brought back memories of Terry Gilliam's movie The Fisher King in terms of flavour and execution. As one of my favourite movies this is high praise indeed.

Charlie Brooks (Ursula) and Keir Ogilvy (Boy) 
Photo: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg
Sticking fantasy elements on stage is a challenge. Creating a story on stage about children for an adult audience is a challenge (Blue Remembered Hills, anyone?). Somehow, this production pulls it off with the sound, lighting, movement- in fact just the whole feel if the show.

Domonic Ramsden, Keir Oglivy (Boy), Aimee McGolderick and Millie Hikasa (Lettie)
Photo: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg

The cast are largely 2 groups, the up front characters who have to deal with, at times, a lot of exposition this they do with aplomb. There is also an ensemble, dressed in black, who are very much responsible for the feel of the show. They move, dance with and manipulate the props around the central action. The success of the show is as much down to how they meld into the background when necessary.

Finty Williams (Old Mrs Hempstock)
Photo: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg
I had many questions at the interval and my patience paid off. This is different. I can see why people go back to see it again. I know I want to.

Not for young kids, the recommendation is 12+ and I would stick with that.

Review: Stephen Oliver


The Ocean At The End Of The Lane will open at Sunderland Empire from Tuesday 28 February – Saturday 4 March 2023. Tickets are available from the Ticket Centre on 0844 871 7615* or online at

 *A £3.65 transaction fee applies to telephone and online bookings. Calls cost up to 7p per minute plus your standard network charge.

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