LAST Christmas audiences at The Lowry were left thrilled, stunned and at times scared by the National Theatre production of The Ocean at the End of the Lane based on the Neil Gaiman novel.

Now Ocean is heading back to Salford Quays before ending a 12-month long tour back in London’s West End.

For Finty Williams. who plays Old Mrs Hempstock, it’s going to be a special week.

Lancashire Telegraph: Finty Williams (Old Mrs Hempstock) in The Ocean at the End of the Lane 
                                                                                                (Picture: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg)

“We are all so excited to be coming back,” she said. “Everybody was so kind to us and it’s where it all began. It felt like a massive group effort and in a way, The Lowry is its rightful home.”

Blending puppetry, illusion and a challenging script, Ocean is a thought-provoking piece of theatre. A man returns to his childhood home following the death of his father and is transported to his childhood when he recalls his friend Lizzie and her family.

Were they witches? Did the events he recalls even really happen?

“It is an extraordinary work and it’s the hugest of privileges to have been involved in it,” said Finty. “When I saw the first run through in the rehearsal room of the first half of the show I shouted out loud because I couldn’t believe these people I was having tea and coffee with in the morning had created this thing that was so special.

“Occasionally I get to watch the end of the first half and it still makes me as excited as it did last October.”

The sheer scale of the production is amazing.

Read also: Five-star review for Ocean last time it was at Lowry

“That’s all to do with the crew who pack everything up and travel with it around the country,” said Finty. “I think it takes seven trucks to carry everything around.

“After Covid a lot of productions were understandably pared down and the casts were perhaps not as big but this is a show with all the credibility and all the greatness of a static show in London.”

Old Mrs Hemstock is a mysterious character - part wise-woman, part narrator - as a supernatural world threatens a seemingly idyllic part of the countryside.

“It is a challenging storyline,” said Finty. “Maybe the first time you see it, for the first 20 minutes you can’t quite decide what genre it is, then it all kicks in and be comes something quite extraordinary.

Lancashire Telegraph: Millie Hikasa (Lettie), Keir Ogilvy (Boy) in The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Picture: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg)

“I can understand that many people come back and see it more than once because it is one of those shows where you will find something new in it each time.

“Even for me having heard the same lines for a year there are bits which will still surprise me - that’s the brilliance of the writing.”

Ocean is also blessed with some stunning visual effects, illusions and, without wishing to give too much away, the odd terrifying creature.

“There is an element for the audience of not quite being able to work out what they are looking at and I love that,” said Finty. “It’s rather like when I went to see War Horse - the National Theatre production which introduced full-sized puppetry into theatre.

“I can see it’s a puppet and I can see people working on it but my heart will over-ride any other sensibility and I’m now looking at a creature I don’t understand.”

Ocean is a demanding show for the entire cast.

“I just come in with too many clothes on and shout a bit and wave my stick and leave,” laughed Finty. “But for the movement people it is incredibly taxing on them and Millie and Keiron who play the boy and Lettie. I don’t know how they do it. Then I realise they are half my age which probably has a lot to do with it. I just look at them and get tired.”

Finty - who to parents with young children will be best known as the voice of Angelina Ballerina - had seen the show in the West End before taking on the role of Old Mrs Hemstock.

“I had friends who were in it so that give me a rough hold on what to do,” she said. “You do feel very much a custodian of that part as you know people have played it before and played it brilliantly. But you also want to bring something to the role and have your own interpretation of who she is.”

Ocean has proved to be a huge hit with younger audiences - it carries a 12+ age advisory.

“It’s a production that’s got quite a few strong women in it. It’s about young people who are struggling so maybe people come and get something important out of it.

Lancashire Telegraph: Finty Williams (Old Mrs Hempstock) and Millie Hikasa (Lettie) in The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Picture: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg)

“Maybe this is an audience who were a bit too young for War Horse so they haven’t seen a show where what happens is proper magic. I’ve been in it a year and I still don’t know how certain things happen.”

Having spent so long on tour, how does Finty feel about the run ending?

“Oh, don’t!” she said. “The thought of leaving behind these people, I can’t go there is my head yet.

“In our business it’s so rare to get a contract that lasts a year. At the beginning you think ‘how am I going to cope get to the end?’ then at the end you start to think ‘how am I going to cope not seeing these people every day?’."

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, The Lowry, Salford Quays, Wednesday, October 4 to Saturday, October 7. Details from