We wrote on Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere before, and now that the Neverwhere adaptation has been released and we’ve had time to digest the content, we at Larkable have something to say about it.
Usually this writer prefers actual audiobooks as opposed to adaptations, but this Neverwhere adaptation is unlike any other radio production you’ll hear.
The stars of the BBC radio Neverwhere adaptation are James McAvoy (Young Professor Charles Xavier) and Natalie Dormer (Margaery Tyrell). McAvoy gets to let loose with his full Scottish accent for this Scottish character, Richard Mayhew. It’s incredibly fun as an American to listen to him speak naturally, and also very easy to make out what McAvoy is saying. Dormer can’t do anything wrong and her dictation is amazing; she does a fantastic job as the heroine and leading lady, Door, almost as if she was born for the role.
Supporting voice actors include David Harewood (Sam Saperstein in Selfie) as the charismatic and questionable Marquis de Carabas, Sophie Okonedo ((Queen) Liz 10 in Doctor Who) as the Amazonian-like bodyguard Hunter, Anthony Head (King Uther in Merlin) as the wretched Mr. Croup, David Schofield (Mercer in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End)as the horrific Mr. Vandemar, and Bernard Cribbins (Wilfred Mott from Doctor Who) as a regular pop-in, Old Bailey.
Of course, as if James McAvoy and Natalie Dormer weren’t enough, Benedict Cumberbatch lends his voice as the Angel Islington.
Other wildly talented and recognizable voices include Christopher Lee (Saruman, Count Dooku) as The Earl and George Harris (Kingsley Shacklebolt) as The Abbott of Blackfriar.
Now that you can mentally place this star studded fandom cast, how do they stack up in this strictly audible adaptation?
After listening to so many audiobooks, I have a good ear for proper infliction, accent, energy, and acting, able to determine a good narrator from a terrible one in the sample time allowed on Audible or iTunes. A good or bad narrator can make or break a book, so it matters. These actors do exactly what they do best: act! With a lack of props and scenery (but not total lack, apparently, if the image above indicates anything), I’m surprised at McAvoy’s authenticity in everything Richard Mayhew says and does. The carefree personalities of the Londoners Below are dead on, the passion in Hunter and Islington is tense, and David Harewood’s Marquis de Carabas is just as superb as Paterson Joseph’s Marquis was in 1996, and those are some large shoes to fill. If you haven’t seen that performance, you should. He’s possibly one of the best TV personalities in the history of television. It’s unreal how much character Neil Gaiman packed into the Marquis, and it sets the bar pretty high.
Anthony Head and David Schofield are perfect as the gruesome duo of Mr. Croud and Mr. Vandemar. These two are the original despicable team of wit and cruelty: the nastiness of Mr. Vandemar is cringeworthy and the voluminous vocabulary of Mr. Croud demands imitation. Head and Schofield truly deliver perfection.
Christopher Lee’s Earl is terrific, that voice of his is just perfect to listen to as he plays a high ruler of London Below holding court along the Underground. Like Benedict Cumberbatch, James Earl Jones, and Morgan Freeman, Christopher Lee has a voice that can mesmerize and hold you for hours. And…I mean…where do I even begin with Bernard Cribbins performance? I couldn’t get enough of Old Bailey, he was brilliant! I didn’t even recognize Cribbins voice as he puts on a bit of a Cockney accent which is just so natural; he’s incredible. The Audible.com recording also has some bloopers at the end where Cribbins ruins a few takes with hilarious ad libs that made the cast and myself burst into giggles.
The fantastic thing about these BBC Radio adaptations are the attention to acoustic detail so the listener can thoroughly imagine what the scene might be. Be it muffled background conversations for full rooms, static traffic noises to indicate outside London, or sound systems for the Underground, the scene is vividly imaginable.
Now, granted, I knew what to expect. I’ve seen the 1996 mini-series that featured Peter Capaldi (I was really excited for him to be become the Doctor), so I already understood the progression of scenes, but even if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have been left in the dark.
For anything that needed visualizing that doesn’t make a noise–such as candles lighting themselves, writing on the wall, or something that oddly stands out in a scene–the cast works to sneak it into the dialog without dampening the flow of the conversation’s natural progression. Believe it or not, this made for a much better experience than even the TV show because the director was able to work in important details that were (seemingly carelessly) abandoned or unemphasized in the mini-series without any explanation. Perhaps you’d have to watch the mini-series and listen to the Neverwhere adaptation to really understand that implication, or perhaps if you’ve seen a movie and then read the book, you know what I mean.
So final opinion: it’s wonderful. The transition from TV to audio transpired more beautifully than anyone could have expected. The actors were perfect, the script was spot on, and all I have left to ask is when does the TV remake come out with the same cast? Because this crew blew it up and I am just hurting to see this outstanding chemistry on screen!