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10 Reasons Why You Absolutely Must Check Out Neil Gaiman's "Neverwhere" Radio Play

By Joanna Robinson | Miscellaneous | March 25, 2013 | Comments ()


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In case you somehow missed the news, the BBC recorded and released a three-hour radio play of Neil Gaiman's "Neverwhere." One of Gaiman's most beloved and accessible books, "Neverwhere" follows the story of Richard Mayhew who gets embroiled, Alice-like, in a topsy-turvy version of his home city called London Below. Along with the Marquis De Carabas (yes that one), the Lady Door and a bodyguard named Hunter, our hero has to evade assassins and the dangers of this demented Wonderland in order to get home again.

It's a rip-roaring fairytale adventure laced with Gaiman's signature sticky menace. Some of the violence is not suitable for very young children, but it's absolutely perfect for families with older moppets. If you've never listened to a radio play, brace yourself for the sound effects and occasionally awkward (but wholly necessary) exposition. Even if you're an audiobook aficionado, this is a horse of a slightly different color. On the whole, however, the production is absolutely delightful. Here are my ten reasons why you should give the show a listen. (All six episodes can be found here for a limited time. So act now!) Because this is a purely auditory production, I've focused mainly on the cast. But what a cast.

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10. If You Have A Healthy Appreciation For Young British Talent: Both Romola Garai in her smaller role and Natalie Dormer ("The Tudors," "Game Of Thrones") acquit themselves beautifully. Dormer's version of Lady Door has not even a trace of the simper that has bothered so many. She's all bright and bubbly when talking to rats and suitably mournful when reflecting on her lost family. Even better is my girl Romola Garai as the Richard's brittle, posh fiancee Jessica (don't call her Jess). If you missed Garai in "The Hour," well, shame on you. She's one of the best things the BBC has going and I only wish her part had been larger.
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9. If You Have A Healthy Appreciation For Older British Talent: Christopher Lee absolutely delights as the doddering Earl of Earl's Court. It's so nice to hear his venerable, gravelly voice in a lighter, more comedic role. He does it perfectly.
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8. If You're A Fan Of Neil, Himself: The author takes on a couple of very small roles in the radio play. He's not exactly threatening to put the RSC out of business, but his performance as the Fop With No Name ("La!") is sure to give you the giggles.
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7. If You Weren't A Fan Of David Harewood On "Homeland": Harewood was fighting well below his weight as David Estes on "Homeland." He's got so much more in him. So listening to him have fun with his role as the Marquis brought me great joy. Fans of the BBC's "Robin Hood" will be especially delighted to hear Harewood again. In fact between Harewood's Marquis, Sophie Okonedo's Hunter and the Black Friars (George Harris, Don Gilet, Abdul Salis) this is a refreshingly non-lily white cast.
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6. If You Like Maps, Puns and British Things: I read "Neverwhere" for the first time when I was in high school and then again on a recent trip to London. Half the fun of the story is the way Gaiman creates mythology out of common place Tube Stop names (e.g. the Earl in Earl's Court, the Angel Islington, Knightsbridge/Night's Bridge and, of course, the Black Friars). I wonder what they would have found at Cockfosters.
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5. If You're A Cumberbatch Enthusiast: I dare not use the phrase Cumberb*tch, but let me assure you "Sherlock" fans, Cumberbatch plays the awesome and charming Angel Islington perfectly. His voice work is a marvel. This bodes well for Smaug. Very, very well.
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4. If You're A Fan Of "Doctor Who": We Whovians may go back and forth on which comely lass is our favorite "Doctor Who" companion, but no one seems to disagree that Wilf ("The End Of Time," etc.) as played by Bernard Cribbins was the best. Cribbins is a veteran voice-over actor so his performance as Old Bailey outshone even some of the more famous names in the cast.
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3. If You Have A Thing For Scottish Burrs: McAvoy uses his native Scots in this recording and ladies? Gents? Bisexual peoples? It's ridiculous. McAvoy himself is absolutely lovely and affable. He does have the unenviable task of carrying a lot of the expositionary dialogue. Much like a "Doctor Who" companion, his job is to react with wonderment and excitement (and sometimes fear) at the strange goings on around him and to draw out the rules of this world from his companions. McAvoy does his very best with a not-as-fun role. And his very best? Well it's damn good.
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2. If You Have A Yen For Lovely Language: Gaiman is one of the finest wordsmiths out there and if you've never experienced his twisty way with words before, you're in for a treat. Yes there are some updates to the story (Richard carries a mobile phone, Jedward jokes are made), but, on the whole, Gaiman's work is intact. And that's a good thing. No he didn't come up with the quote below, but the story is peppered with several even better turns of phrase that are pure Gaiman.
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1. Giles: Anthony Stewart Head aka Giles from "Buffy" absolutely blows the barn doors off this production. And that's not my "Buffy" bias talking. He has the advantage of getting the very best bits of dialogue as the villainous Mr. Croup and is fortunate in having David Schofield (Mr. Vandemar) as a scene partner. But if you are a "Buffy" fan, imagine the wolfish ooomph of Ripper with Mr. Giles' way with words. It's absolutely divine.
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Joanna Robinson realizes she just gushed instead of examined critically. She doesn't care one whit.


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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • Tinkerville

    Was finally able to listen to it and it was even better than I expected. Aside from the obvious standouts (Cumberbatch, McAvoy, Stewart Head, etc.), I was pleasantly surprised by how fantastic Natalie Dormer was as Door. She was absolutely perfect for the character and got to show a different side of her acting chops than usual.

  • Lizella

    Can't thank you enough for sharing this. Great series and so many interesting things I wasn't aware of on BBC streaming radio.

  • Kiddo

    Listened to the whole thing and loved every second of it. Bernard Cribbins is a treasure and there was absolutely no better choice than the Batch for Islington.

  • Leelee

    I'm not sure I can cope with two McAcoy pictures, the Cumberbatch scarf GIF, and Ripper-Giles with that grin.
    Add Tom Hardy cuddling a puppy and this post might kill me.

  • John W

    Damn those are ten good reasons....

  • raeraefred

    "a fan of neil, himself." i see what you did there..

  • Uriah_Creep

    Speaking of Neil Gaiman: I've actually never read any of his books, and I've been meaning to correct that oversight this week. My question is: Which book should be my intro to his oeuvre? I've been reading reviews (more like gushing...) and can't decide. American Gods? The Sandman? Neverwhere? Of course, I'll probably read all of these if I enjoy his work, but I'm open to suggestions on how to break my Neil Gaiman maiden.

  • ruby

    Also, any collections of his short stories. Smoke and Mirrors, for example, is fantastic, and it's an easy introduction to Gaiman's work since it's not terribly long. Sandman is absolutely brilliant, but unless you're already a comics fan, it might not be the best work with which to start.

  • linnyloo

    Good Omens (co-author), Stardust, and the Graveyard Book are also excellent. I first read Good Omens, and found it to be absolutely hilarious, so that was my first intro to Neil. American Gods is spare and at times heartbreaking but excellent, and its sequel, Anansi Boys, is decidedly funnier and has a bit more energy. Neverwhere is a quick read chock full of unforgettable characters and really brilliant turns of phrase. Haven't read The Sandman series yet, but honestly, you can't go wrong.

  • Uriah_Creep

    Thanks! Good Omens it is as a start. Having read a couple of the Discworld books this year, I can't think of a better collaboration.

  • PQ

    I've been following the radio play and thus far, it is absolutely spine-tingly divine to just close my eyes and /listen/. Imagination really fills in the blanks and Anthony Head is fantastically menacing fun. Kudos to McAvoy (I keep imagining him rolling his eyes and pushing his floppy hair out of his eyes) and Cumberbatch, whose deep voice adds just the right tint of sinister potency to his role.

  • KaGe

    Does it make me a terrible American that I laughed every time I heard Cockfosters while riding the tube?

  • TheShitWizard

    Only if it makes me a terrible Brit for doing the same.

  • tangocharlie

    I must say, as an avid audiobook listener, this is difficult to get used to. However, McAvoy's voice is beyond charming and I love the sound effects. I will continue to listen, when I can.

  • linnyloo

    I have the version of neverwhere read aloud by Neil Himself, and that's pretty damn good too!

  • alwaysanswerb

    Natalie Dormer! You are lovely and amazing! What is it that you have against your own face? This picture isn't so bad compared to the panoply of duckfaces you pulled at the GoT premiere, but I'm still concerned you're hiding some webbed feet...

  • beletseri

    has anyone else seen the miniseries from '96? It's terrible and wonderful at the same time.

  • Tinkerville

    A million thanks for this. I've been dying to listen to this but was having trouble finding working links online (I can be woefully inept at the Internet sometimes..). Now I'm counting down the minutes till I get off work so I can devour it.

  • Here are all the links--the BBC is releasing it with their Drama of the Week podcast for free. Episode 1 is available through Friday, next week is episode 2, etc. http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/...

  • Captain D

    Stressing the limited time, it looks like episode 6 is only available for four more days.

  • Ted Zancha

    Considering James McAvoy and I share a last name, I always get excited when I see a film by him. It makes me feel famous by association in a sad, pathetic way.

  • abell

    Well worth it. Also, do we have any news on the HBO American Gods thing that I saw a while ago?

  • InternetMagpie

    I am so, so excited to listen to this.

  • alannaofdoom

    Enthusiastic cosign on all of this, particularly the Giles of it all. Also, for those who want a copy of their very own to treasure forever, it's downloadable via the "Drama of the Week" podcast. Episode 1 is up through this Friday.

  • annie

    Even if the whole cast wasn't so brilliant or the writing so strong and downright fun, Cumberbatch's haunting singing in one episode is enough to make the whole series worth it: http://kellsername.tumblr.com/...

  • LaineyBobainey

    Ooooh, I've just started listening to this and so far, I LOVE IT! I tore through the book and was looking forward to hearing this and then kind of forgot about it. I saw it mentioned on Facebook and HAD to listen to it right away and *sigh* James McAvoy's lovely voice and accent drew me in immediately.

    I'll be listening during my lunches this week and actually closing my door and losing myself in London Below for a half hour (if I can control myself and only listen for 30 minutes) a day. I'm so excited!

  • Two episodes in and my pants, they are charmed off.

  • Scully

    If I get a speeding ticket while rushing home to listen to this, I'm forwarding it to Pajiba.

  • emmelemm

    MacAvoy!!!!!!!!!!

    Seriously, that header picture is giving me the fucking vapors.

  • toblerone

    I know Richard is a Scot in the book and love McAvoy, but when reading it my mental image and voice of Richard was Chris O'Dowd. Anyone else?

    Side Note: McAvoy is married?

  • JoannaRobinson

    To his lovely (but not TOO lovely) co-star from "Shameless." They're pretty delightful.

  • toblerone

    It's not surprising and would explain the lack of tabloid stories detailing his sexual exploits but he just seems so young (or just looks it).

  • annie

    He's only had two major relationships: His first girlfriend he was with since he was 16 up until around the time he was on Shameless, and then Anne-Marie, whom he wedded and impregnated. They are made of precious and love. She is a few years older older, and he has a total baby face.

  • Pants-are-a-must

    Also, Joanna, it's "The Hour," not plural. My heart will never quite heal from that show.

  • Pants-are-a-must

    Cumberbatch-related, I have recently discovered "Cabin Pressure." I am 250% unsurprised he's excelling in this radio play as well.

  • annie

    He is ridiculous and hilarious in that. Comedy, I think, is his secret super power.

  • CosmoNewanda

    I thought melting panties was his super power.

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