Ocean at the End of the Lane

12 04 2022

Grace Hogg-Robinson (Sis), Laur…anuel Harlan_OEL21-448

The National Theatre of London is bringing together two national favoutites in The Ocean and the End of the Lane: Neil Gaiman and puppetry. Gareth K Vile talks to Samuel Wyer about the fantastic, the mundane, and how a bin-bag can threaten.

Adapted from Neil Gaiman’s novel by Joel Horwood, The Ocean at the End of the Lane combines Gaiman’s distinctive mixture of fantasy and naturalism: dark and ancient forces conspire against the imaginations of two children, who find that the pond might be something altogether more majestic… and threatening.

Part of the translation of the drama from page to stage has been the inclusion of puppetry, with Samuel Wyer designing both the puppets and the costumes. Far from seeing Ocean as a purely fantastical work, Wyer recognises that it is rooted in the mundane.

‘I feel Neil’s work which includes the fantastic is rooted in the human everyday experience,’ he says. ‘All the magic he describes leaks through or shows up in the world we know to affect the very human heart at the centre of the story, as opposed to creating alternate realities or far-flung realms.’ And Wyer takes much of his inspiration from this juxtaposition or overlapping of the two realms.

He continues: ‘The way that inspired my approach was putting the performers physicality and human forms into the puppetry, creating shapes and forms that are at once abstract and familiar, fantastic and human, and using materials that are tangible and expressive.’ Following a contemporary trend in puppetry, Wyer appears to be finding the boundary between the puppet and the human and challenging it: in much the same way as Gaiman erodes the demarcation between myth and reality in previous works like Sandman or Good Omens, Wyer is exploring how the inanimate can inform the animate.

‘In one of our first sessions with Neil, he hi-lighted our use of bin liners in our prototype Hungerbird,’ Wyer remembers. ‘And commented that there was something particularly malevolent and disconcerting about a piece of bin liner flapping around, caught on a barbed wire fence.’ Rooted in the protagonists’ imagination, the adventure flickers between appearances and substance, a process encouraged by the use of seemingly quotidian materials.

‘This perspective really crystallised the approach for me and very much acted a filter for my design choices. Especially when looking at what was natural, what was out of place, what was discernible and what was abstract,’ Wyer concludes.

Playing until 14 May 2022                                  
Address: Duke of York’s Theatre, St Martin's Lane, Charing Cross, London WC2N 4BG 
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Telephone 0844 871 7615* 
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For group bookings call 020 7206 1174 

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The Ocean at the End of the Lane is suitable for ages 12+. 


 Gareth Vile