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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Joanna Robinson realizes she just gushed instead of examined critically. She doesn’t care one whit.