The only way to do any justice to the amazingness of BBC-Radio 4 Extra’s audio adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere would be to unleash a very long stream of joyous expletives.
There simply are not enough adjectives to support this masterpiece of audible nirvana. So, I guess I’ll just tell you that I liked it. I really, really, REALLY liked it.
My reasons for really – I mean REALLY- liking it are almost as long as the vulgarity mentioned above. It was wonderful in every way things can be wonderful. Here are a three examples.
Anyone who knows me (or reads my posts here at Let Us Nerd) knows of my love for Mr. Gaiman. It began with Sandman and continues with every new project he puts out (can’t wait for The Ocean at the End of the Lane!). Neverwhere was a bit of an anomaly for me however. In 1996 he wrote it as a BBC television series that he wasn’t very happy with. Rightly so. I have yet to sit through the entire first episode. The thing is a mess.
Neil then wrote a novelization of his script so people could enjoy the story the way he had intended them to. The novel is certainly better but it never really grabbed me the way his other novels did. I enjoyed the idea of a London existing below the London everyone knows of, a dark and magical world where all the forgotten things go. What it lacked was the spell weaving prose Neil is so great at. When reading his work you can feel something coming off of the page and weaving itself around you. Mr. Gaiman has admitted that, when he wrote it, he wasn’t entirely comfortable writing novels.
I think it could also be that Neverwhere was conceived as a drama. Something which required sounds, and the insights of great actors and producers to make it whole.
That is where this radio adaptation succeeds in spades. Big, silver, gleaming spades.
This dramatization has all the whimsical brilliance of a Gaiman story. With the moments of real menacing darkness ready to bite at any moment that make his work so riveting.
2) The Format
My first love was film. The immediacy of it’s art. I wanted my stories to be shown to me as opposed to told to me. Film offered that. As I got older I started to read more and grew to love the power it gave me to construct the text into imagery in my mind. Yet I had a bit of trouble finishing books I’d started. The freedom was great but I still craved a more instant satisfaction. I wanted to cooperate with the art in imagining the story it presented me.
Audiobooks are fun. But sometimes a solitary voice isn’t engaging enough. Audio Dramas fit my needs perfectly. The story is told to you. You are given everything you need to run off in your mind and paint it’s landscapes and characters any way you see fit.
Audio Dramas are a pretty much dead art here in the USA. There are some true fans turning out their own stories in the form but not nearly enough for it to make a genuine return. Over the pond the form is alive, well, and better than ever, with new dramas being produced constantly. Thank goodness BBC radio is available all over the world.
In Neverwhere the world of London below has been meticulously layered to draw you into it’s dangerous vastness. No matter where the scene took place, the floating market, a brick subway car, or in the residence of The Angel Islington, I felt a part of it, and worried something might be ready to burst out at me to steal my life at every turn.
3) The Incredible Cast
Very rarely do I watch anything on TV or in film anymore that leaves me in awe of the cast. Usually there will be a real stand-out performance, but hardly ever does the entire cast blow me away. I have to say that a reason for this is my overall distaste for acting. Too many actors are so concerned with how they look they forget to actually ACT. This is why I turn to a lot of British dramas. Those are actors who understand how to commit to something. Look at a show like Downton Abbey. Not a weak performance in the bunch. Even the smallest cameos come off as memorable living and breathing people.
Even with on screen British actors so much of their character is already communicated by how they dress, or how they’re lit. A huge chunk of the work is done for them. Take that away and only give them a voice, see if their performance still holds up. Conveying practically everything there is to know about a character using only your voice is immensely challenging (and I’m not only saying that because I’m training to become a voice actor) and needs to be done just right or the entire project fails.
There is not a weak link in this entire cast. JUST LOOK AT THEM!
James “Mr. Tumnus” McAvoy, Natalie “Tudors” Dormer, David “This guy should be the first black Doctor Who” Harewood, Sophie “I’m the bloody Queen of England” Okonedo, Anthony “When the hell is there going to be a frigging Ripper movie” Head, and Benedict “Holy shit I love this guy” Cumberbatch, are all amazing on their own. Each one always out in everything they do. Throw them together and it’s so good it might kill you. Oh yea, and Christopher “F*cking” Lee is in it too!
If any of them stick out more than the others here it would be Benedict Cumberbatch (who has the coolest name and voice in the history of always) as the mysterious Angel Islington. Anthony Head as the amusing and disturbing Mr. Croup. And the brilliant Bernard Cribbins as Old Bailey. There is something so sincere in all his performances that get me every time.
This is a production I plan on listening to many more times over. It is probably as close to perfection as something can get. If you’re looking for something more than what TV, Films, or even novels and comics have to offer, and you feel like escaping for the next few hours, head over to the BBC’s Neverwhere page http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01r522y. You can listen for free. Seriously, you’ll really, REALLY like it.
Now go enter London Below…and get lost.