Tag Archives: Steven Hoggett

“The Ocean at the end of the Lane” at the Duke of York’s Theatre

Neil Gaiman’s fantasy tale, adapted for the stage by Joel Horwood, is clever. An introduction to some metaphysics as well as the supernatural makes the story as thought-provoking as it’s entertaining. The piece is as much about childhood and parenthood as adventure, which makes it moving emotionally as well as being action-packed. If a little too attentive to its genre (which you either love or hate), The Ocean at the End of the Lane is brought to the stage with great style. 

Having a best friend, Lettie, who is some kind of witch proves a mixed blessing for our young hero. A play date results in the unnamed boy’s home being invaded by a monster who usually lives on the fringes of our reality! The creature, who transforms into Ursula (played very capably by Laura Rogers) controls a grieving father and gullible sister. Thankfully, Lettie (who isn’t really young) can magically help out. The plot is diverting enough – but solidly aimed at children.

Gaiman says his story is about memory, which doesn’t come across so much on stage. But having an adult character reminisce about the events of his childhood, and then perform as his own father, adds layers to the characters, which helps both James Bamford and Nicolas Tennant in their roles. Other characters are fun, if sketchy, such as the ‘Sis’ter, played by Grace Hogg-Robinson. But there are too many questions around Lettie’s motivation, skated over with the powerful performance from Nia Towle.

As with previous National Theatre hits for children (War HorseCoram Boy) the show isn’t scared to be dark, a little gory and sometimes funny – well done for trying on all counts. The gore is good, but the humour is unoriginal and there is too little threat. It’s really director Katy Rudd’s work that makes the show a success. Breathless and excited about adventure and magic, the piece convinces against the odds.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The puppets (credited to Samuel Wyer) are as good as any I’ve seen on stage. Paule Constable has surpassed herself with lighting design. Above all, the soundtrack from Jherek Bischoff is superb – it’s no surprise it’s on sale. And Steven Hoggett’s movement direction is the key, well done (all the more welcome, since the dialogue is poor), with everyone moving props and acting all the while. Rudd has made sure the show eminently theatrical. Of course, fantasy on stage works! Imagination is the key to theatre and the genre – and the production harnesses this with great skill.

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Until May 2022

Photo by Manuel Harlan

“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” at the Palace Theatre

I sometimes feel as if I’m the only person to have neither read nor seen the adventures of JK Rowling’s schoolboy wizard. Which might make blogging about the two plays that form a sequel a little foolhardy. Don’t curse me, but I’ve never been that bothered. And since the Potter corpus is an extensive one, my worry about joining in was whether I’d work out what was going on. Still, you can’t argue with a record nine Olivier awards. And, while my fears were not unfounded, they didn’t spoil a show that turned out to be lot of a fun.

With a successful #keepthesecrets campaign, I wouldn’t dare reveal plot points. And I wouldn’t want to, either, as the best thing here is the atmosphere: contagious enthusiasm and excitement in one of London’s biggest venues. And it’s a bit of relief to have to keep quiet. Those steeped in Potter lore might underestimate how complicated it is. Thankfully, as a coming-of-age adventure story, it is easy to keep up with. But I suffered for my ignorance: there was some nudging amongst the audience as they recognised favourite characters, a proper gasp at a revelation that left me baffled, and lots of jokes lost. The story is by Rowling herself. Abetted by Jack Thorne (credited for the script)  and the show’s director John Tiffany, the plot thickens nicely and their combined efforts make this gripping stuff.

The show is satisfyingly theatrical. The magic illusions from Jamie Harrison are good and spaced out well. There are eye-catching effects, but nor is Tiffany scared of small touches – which takes confidence in such a big show – so props are minimal and the stage often bare. It’s clear you can do a lot with a swirling cape and this crew really works them. Steven Hoggett’s movement direction is first rate. Best of all is Imogen Heap’s music for the show, which adds pace and atmosphere.

Even I know that the original films have led to fame for several youngsters. The focus here is on the next generation, with Samuel Blenkin making an astonishing professional debut, showing natural comic skills. Theo Ancient is there to deliver the teenage angst and confusion that makes the whole affair relatable and moving – he is fantastic, too. As for those stepping into very big shoes: Jamie Glover takes the part of Harry, rising to the challenge of a play that is demanding of its cast. The theme of fatherhood and friendship is a thoughtful vein amongst the fun. This trio and the intimate scenes between them are the strongest. Where we move from wizardry to the “messy emotional world” – that’s when we get the real magic.

www.harrypottertheplay.com

Photo by Manuel Harlan