The Ocean at the End of the Lane is coming to THE GOH
The forthcoming tour of the National Theatre’s adaptation of the award-winning book The Ocean at the End of the Lane is coming to Grand Opera House, Belfast. Author Neil Gaiman answers our questions.
The book is loosely based on your childhood. What was the starting point?
The book began with me wanting to try and explain to my wife where I grew up and what that world was like. She could take me to her childhood home because it’s still the same, but I couldn’t take her to where I grew up [in East Grinstead] because the place had long since been demolished; lots of lovely neat little housing estates covered the gardens and the fields and lanes. So for me it was kind of an effort to try and evoke a past and a sense of place. An interesting side of it for me too was that I realised that I hadn’t heard, for a very long time, the Sussex accent of my childhood. Mrs Weller came in and cleaned once a week and Mr Weller came in and did the gardens. They were probably in their 80s and they had proper Sussex accents – almost like a West Country burr. I resolved to write a novel with that in too.
How did you create the Hempstocks?
I was told by my mother – quite erroneously, I discovered, when I did my research – that the farm half-way down our lane was in the Doomsday Book. And that was the start of the Hempstocks in my head; who they were and what I wanted to do with them.
Do you find writing about family especially fascinating?
I don’t think I’ve ever been able to avoid writing about family, even when I thought I was writing about something else. Whether it’s biological family or the family we make. In the novel I created a semi-fictional family for myself, and in the play version it was one step further away from my family, which I think looking back on is incredibly healthy! But the boy is definitely me.
The play received amazing reviews when it premiered. Without any spoilers, do you have any favourite moments?
There is something astounding about the moment when they enter the ocean. That completely fascinates me. And you’re going to see miracles made out of bits of rubbish and old plastic bags and nightmarish birds beyond your imagination. It still takes me by surprise every time I watch.
Is it true that you were so moved by the play when you saw it in rehearsals that you cried?
I saw the first full run through. About ten minutes from the end I had tears running down my face. I thought that this was terribly embarrassing and I was discreetly trying to flick them away.
You describe yourself as a storyteller. What inspired you to be a writer?
I’m not sure that all writers are frustrated performers, but for me it was the joy in getting to be all of the characters. As a writer you get to do that. Being a kid who loved books I could think of nothing cooler than giving people the pleasure that I got.
This amazing show runs at The Grand Opera House from 21 – 25 March 2023 .
Visit goh.co.uk for tickets
MORE ABOUT THE SHOW
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 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.
Touring for a total of 40 weeks, this is the largest tour mounted by the National Theatre since before
the COVID-19 pandemic. It follows a celebrated six-month run of The Ocean at the End of the Lane at
the Duke of York’s Theatre in the West End, which opened in November 2021 after the production
received its world premiere in the Dorfman Theatre in late 2019.
Writer Neil Gaiman said: “The Ocean at the End of the Lane is about memory, magic, family. It’s about
who you were and who you are. It’s not like anything else I’ve ever been involved in. It’s not like
anything else you’ll ever see at the theatre. The Ocean at the End of the Lane has its own theatrical
magic. It's why happy people tell you that they cried while watching it, it's why it becomes a dreamlike
experience in memory, it gets bigger the further inside you follow it. Like a duck pond that contains an
ocean that holds the universe…”
Director Katy Rudd said: “When Neil Gaiman gave the National Theatre his blessing to stage his novel
The Ocean at the End of the Lane we knew that this book was treasured across the world by Neil
Gaiman’s legions of fans. The writer, Joel Horwood and I wanted to be faithful to the novel and at the
same time create a big, bold, visual show with more than just a little bit of magic. Thanks to our
amazing creative team we found ways to fit an ocean into a bucket, and bring huge mythical creatures
like the Hunger Birds to life on stage….but at its heart, Ocean is a human story about a family and a
young boy growing up, experiencing real emotion and real pain, and finding a way to get through it
with the help of his friends. We hope we have created something that is both profound and visually
exciting that will appeal, not only to regular theatre audiences, but also to younger people from the
‘Netflix generation’ who might not have been to the theatre before. It is a beautiful, rich, multi-faceted
story and as this production goes on tour we are still adapting and evolving it and finding new meaning
in its depths. That is the magic of live theatre and we can’t wait to share it with our audiences.”
National Theatre Director Rufus Norris said: “That Joel Horwood, Katy Rudd and their formidable
creative team have managed to wrestle Neil Gaiman’s incredible imagination and the worlds which
spring from it onto a stage is magic in itself. We’re so proud to tour this work around the UK and
Ireland, to share this beautiful story with audiences nationally, and to visit so many gorgeous theatres
which, like ours, have recently been dark for too long.”
Neil Gaiman is known for his graphic novels, including The Sandman series (with a major new Netflix
series scheduled for release in 2022); his novels for adults and children including Stardust, Coraline,
and The Graveyard Book; and multiple film and television projects including Good Omens and Anansi
Boys. The Ocean at the End of the Lane was the winner of the Book of the Year at the 2013 National
Book Awards and has sold more than 1.5 million copies worldwide.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane introduces audiences to Gaiman’s magical world and the much-
loved characters that inhabit it, fully realised on stage. An award-winning creative team join Katy Rudd
and Joel Horwood; with set design by Fly Davis (Beginning; Caroline or Change) and costume and
puppet design by Samuel Wyer (The Boy in the Dress; 2022 Best Family Show Olivier Award winner
for Wolf Witch Giant Fairy). Movement direction is by Steven Hoggett (The Curious Incident of the
Dog in the Night-Time; Harry Potter and the Cursed Child), composition by Jherek Bischoff (LA
based composer and multi-instrumentalist whose collaborators include David Byrne, Amanda Palmer,
and Regina Spektor), lighting design is by Paule Constable (5 times winner of the Olivier Award for
Best Lighting Design, including for The Ocean at the End of the Lane in 2020), sound design by Ian
Dickinson for Autograph (Angels in America; Small Island; The Curious Incident of the Dog in the
Night-Time), magic and illusions direction and design by Jamie Harrison (Harry Potter and the
Cursed Child) and puppetry direction by Finn Caldwell (2022 Olivier Award winner for Life of Pi; War
Horse). Tour casting is by Sarah Hughes CDG.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is suitable for ages 12+.