Thrilling for Teenagers, Terrifying for Adults!

“It’s not an ocean, it’s a duck pond!”

The Boy

James Bamford as the Boy (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

Fly Davis’s magnificent set is a mysterious tangle of tall, bristly, overarching hedges.  The opening scene recalls those RSC plays of the 1980s and 90s where a funeral takes place in the rain with the dramatic view of black umbrellas making their carriers look like alien creatures silhouetted in the graveyard.  But there are much scarier alien creatures to come in Joel Horwood’s dramatisation of Neil Gaiman’s fantasy novel.

Alex as a grown up (Nicolas Tennant) has come to a funeral where he lived as a boy.  Here he meets Old Mrs Hempstock (Penny Layden) and while they are both looking at the lake, she recalls that he was her granddaughter, Lettie’s friend. This lake was what Lettie called the ocean. 

We flash back to when Alex was a boy (James Bamford).  This startles with the suicide of Dad (Nicolas Tennant)’s lodger using his landlord’s car.  The Boy is asked back to the old farmhouse kitchen where three generations of mysterious Hempstock women live.    We also see Dad trying to cope with bringing up his children after the death of his wife and perpetually burning the toast.  The Boy has a sister, Sis (Grace Hogg-Robinson) who has a high squeaky voice and is skilled at winding up her brother and who made me both laugh and squirm. 

Nia Towle as Lettie (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

These early scenes reminded me of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, because the Boy has the frankness of Christopher and an oddness which means he is teased and bullied at school. Lettie (Nia Towle) and the Boy bond and she invites him on her magic mission to intervene with a spirit stuck on the edge of two worlds.  During this episode a battle takes place with a terrifying spider that fills all the stage.  Lettie and the Boy are meant to hold hands but he lets go and something enters his body making a wormhole in his foot. 

The Boy goes home and a day later his father has a new lodger Ursula (Laura Rogers) who looks like Marilyn Monroe and who is beastly to the Boy whilst pleasing his sister with favouritism.  After the Boy crosses Ursula, Dad punishes him in the most frightening way, that makes this play unsuitable for young children. 

Steven Hoggett’s very special movement talent combined with Finn Caldwell’s puppetry make this production extraordinary and exciting, although there are also times when I jumped out of my seat in terror. Illusions by Jamie Harrison and Paule Constable’s dramatic lighting enhance this spectacular show under Katy Rudd’s direction.  The murder birds are huge, fearsome, animated puppets, dark as ravens who attack people.  Now which bird is it where the collective noun is a murder?  Crows. 

The performances are excellent and I especially liked James Bamford and Nia Towle as the Boy and Lettie, but Grace Hogg-Robinson was obnoxious as the brat of a sister.  I risk the censure of those who deny gender differences, but the production of The Ocean at the End of the Lane is perfect for those teens that fill the Fortune Theatre’s The Woman in Black.  

Nia Towle as Lettie, James Bamford as the Boy and Siubhan Harrison as Ginnie Hempstock (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

Production Notes

The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Adapted by Joel Horwood

Based on the novel by Neil Gaiman

Directed by Katy Rudd



James Bamford

Nia Towle

Siubhan Harrison

Penny Layden

Grace Hogg-Robinson

Laura Rogers

Nicolas Tennant


Ruby Ablett

Emma Bown

Charlie Cameron

Jeff D’Sangalang

Kieran Garland

Miranda Heath

Tom Mackley

Charleen Qwaye

Peter Twose.


Director: Katy Rudd

Set Designer: Fly Davis

Costume and Puppet Designer: 

Samuel Wyer

Movement Director: Steven Hoggett

Lighting Designer: Paule Constable

Composer: Jherek Bischoff

Magic and Illusions Director:  

  Jamie Harrison

Puppetry Director:  Finn Caldwell

Fight Director: Kev McCurdy


Running Time: Two hours 35 minutes with an interval

Booking to 14th May 2022


Duke of York’s Theatre

104 St Martin’s Lane

London  WC2N 4BG

Phone: 03330 096 690


Tube: Charing Cross

Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge at the

Duke of York’s at the matinée

on 11th November  2021