Neil Gaiman on bringing his novel ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ to the stage
Neil Gaiman is a master of multiple literary forms. The award-winning British author has crafted comic books, novels, television series, movies, audio plays, and more, and his works have been adapted for all mediums, including the theatre.
His latest work to hit the stage is The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which premiered at the National Theatre in 2019, and the acclaimed production will transfer to the West End for a run at the Duke of York’s Theatre from October 2021. Tickets are available now.
“I love that Ocean blends the act of imagining -- puppets made of plastic bags and cast-off umbrellas -- with state of the art stage magic, as we see the impossible happen in front of us,” says Gaiman. “But what matters is the emotional resonance of the magic.”
The fantastical story follows a man who is plunged back in time to his 12th birthday where he reunites with a childhood friend and they embark on a tumultuous adventure. Joel Horwood adapted Gaiman’s award-winning novel for the stage, and Katy Rudd directs the production, which received three Olivier nominations for its run at the National.
London Theatre corresponded with Gaiman over email to talk more about why this play is exciting and potentially writing for the theatre.
What does it mean to you to have one of your novels adapted for the stage in this way?
It's thrilling, exciting and moving. It's not the first time I've seen a book of mine adapted to the stage, but it's the first one that made me cry.
The story is quite fantastical, which can be either difficult to translate to the stage or an amazing opportunity to be creative and inventive with the interpretation. How do you feel about the magical and fantasy aspects translation for live theatre?
Theatre is an act of imaginative complicity between an audience and what is happening on the stage. The audience, after all, know that they aren't really in Sussex forty years ago. They know that they are seeing actors. But their imagination amends this, as Shakespeare put it. And people have been putting magic on the stage for at least as long as we have had stages.
How involved were you in the adaptation of the story? Were there any particular elements you wanted to keep or change for the stage?
I was involved, but not micro-involved, which was perfect. Joel and Katy would make something, and when they were ready for me to see it I would, and I would give them notes and suggestions and tell them what I loved.
You’ve done some audio plays, but have you ever considered writing works for the stage?
I want to. I just need to make the time for it to happen.
This show played before theatres shut down, and now it will be among some of the first shows to come back. How do you think this story resonates differently after the experience of a global pandemic?
We will find out. Ocean is normally an emotional experience for the audience. I think it's going to be an even more deep and affecting story after what's happened to us all... but we will find out.
Photo credit: The Ocean at the End of the Lane at the National Theatre