Review: BBC Radio 4/Radio 4 Extra Adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere

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The cast of Neverwhere acknowledges the show’s creator. From left to right: Benedict Cumberbatch (Islington), David Harewood (the Marquis de Carabas), Natalie Dormer (Door), Dirk Maggs (dramatizer), James McAvoy (Richard), David Schofield (Mr. Vandemar) and Anthony Head (Mr. Croup).

My interest was piqued a while back when Neil Gaiman mentioned on his blog a radio drama called Neverwhere, based on the eponymous novel. After doing some research (thank you, Wikipedia), I discovered that this was in fact the third incarnation of Gaiman’s Neverwhere saga, the first being a TV mini-series composed of six half-hour episodes. Intrigued, I decided to listen to the radio show. About a minute in, all I heard was a cacophony of noises and voices and couldn’t tell what was happening at all, never having listened to a proper radio series before. Thus I deduced that the series was meant for people who had already read the book, and set about procuring a copy at once (thank you, Amazon Kindle). Upon finishing the novel (which was fantastic, by the way) I returned to the radio series. Even as someone unused to relying purely on my sense of hearing when being told a story, it was a gratifying experience. I was glad to have read the book beforehand, because on the rare occasion that I felt overwhelmed in the wash of sound, I had a sense of what was going on nonetheless. However, this confusion only occurred only a few times, and usually lasted a maximum of twenty seconds. I do not think that the series would have been any less enjoyable had I not read the book beforehand.


Very collected indeed.

And it most definitely was enjoyable. Hearing the voices of people I’ve seen in movies or on television shows was rather strange and quite cool, because sometimes it’s hard to believe how much voice can affect character. For example, take Anthony Head as the sadistic logophile Mr. Croup. When I first heard his voice, I most definitely would not have been able to tell it was Anthony Head’s, nor would I have connected it to the voice of the calm, collected Rupert Giles from Buffy.

Actually, many of the actors in Neverwhere have some amount of neek cred…

p015n13wJames McAvoy, playing Richard Mayhew – our unassuming Arthur Dent-like protagonist who is suddenly swept into a subterranean world known as “London Below” which he cannot hope to comprehend – from (among other things) X-Men: First Class, The Chronicles of Narniaand the Children of Dune TV mini-series.

p015kpxyNatalie Dormer, playing Door – the eldest of a once well-to-do clan known as Arch, who is investigating the murder of her family – from HBO’s Game of Thrones and Captain America: The First Avenger.

p015n1qbDavid Harewood, playing the Marquis de Carabas – an enigmatic trickster who owes a debt to Door’s father and wishes to repay it by helping Door on her quest – from Homeland and two episodes of Doctor Who as Joshua Naismith.

p015npdwSophie Okonedo, playing Hunter – the fierce warrior who becomes Door’s bodyguard – from Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls and an episode of Doctor Who as Liz Ten. I’ll forgive the momentary lapse that is Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker.

Anthony Head, who as previously mentioned plays Mr. Croup – a for-hire assassin who likes talking very much – from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Merlin, MI-5 (Spooks)and an episode of Doctor Who as Mr. Finch. Since this is

Not exactly the blokes you'd want to meet in a dark alley at night.

Not exactly the blokes you’d want to meet in a dark alley at night.

 Anthony Stewart Head here, I’ll forgive him for Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning ThiefPlus quietly weep that he’s signed on to Sea of Monsters.

David Schofield, playing Mr. Vandemar – Mr. Croup’s constantly hungry partner-in-murder – from Pirates of the Caribbean, Gladiator, and The Last of the Mohicans.

p015pkh2Bernard Cribbins, playing Old Bailey – a “roof man” who loves his birds and safeguards a very important box for the Marquis – from The Wombles and several episodes of Doctor Who as Wilfred Mott. He has also released the comic songs “The Hole in the Ground,” which tells the tale of a rather murderous workman, and “Right Said Fred,” in which several laborers struggle to lift a large, unidentified, non-flying object possessing a seat, feet, and candelabras. It was later revealed that the object was a piano. Which does nothing to explain the candelabras.

p015pkgfChristopher Lee, playing the Earl of Earl’s Court – a slightly senile denizen of London Below who resides in a tube train carriage which has been converted into a medieval court – from The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Star Wars, Alice and Wonderland, Hugo, The Color of Magic, The Golden Compass, Corpse Bride, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Wyrd SistersI could go on.

p015pkgmGeorge Harris, playing the Abbot of the Black Friars – the blind leader of the custodians of the key which Door and Richard seek – from Raiders of the Lost Ark, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and Flash Gordon.

p015nrfwBenedict Cumberbatch, playing the Angel Islington – a legendary angel who has all of the answers Door and Richard seek – from Sherlock, The Hobbit, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, War Horse, Hawking, The Last Enemy, and Parade’s End. He will also be playing the villain (“John Harrison“) in the upcoming film Star Trek: Into Darkness.

Not to mention the show’s dramatizer, Dirk Maggs, whose innovative “audio movie” techniques – the combination of sound effects, cinematic music, and scripts – made listening to Neverwhere enjoyable and immersive. He has worked on such radio shows as Superman on TrialDark Knight: Batman: The Lazarus SyndromeThe Adventures Of SupermanBatman: KnightfallThe Amazing Spider-ManJudge Dredd, and Superman: Doomsday and Beyond (“Superman Lives” in the US)…to name but a few.

Though the same should be true for every narrative radio series, I must say that what struck me the most about Neverwhere was the fact that when I sat back and closed my eyes, I saw everything I heard. I could allow my mind to wander based on the gentle guidance it had been given through auditory prompts, and in the end many of the settings I imagined were completely different from those I had envisioned while reading the book. The sound effects were rarely overdone, the orchestration tasteful, and the use of dialogue as a stand-in for description was subtle yet effective. Bravo, Dirk Maggs, for a wonderful dramatization of a fantastic book.

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