BBC Radio 4: Neverwhere


Beneath the streets of London there is another London. A subterranean labyrinth of sewers and abandoned tube stations. A somewhere that is Neverwhere.

An act of kindness sees Richard Mayhew catapulted from his ordinary life into a subterranean world under the streets of London. Stopping to help an injured girl on a London street, Richard is thrust from his workaday existence into the strange world of London Below.

When I discovered that my favourite of favourite Neil Gaiman novels (and joint favourite of favourite books, though I can never quite stick to a concrete decision of my other favourite of favourite books so perhaps it’s just my favourite) was going to be made into a radio play with a stellar cast including James McAvoy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Anthony Head, Christopher Lee and Natalie Dormer (whose face is one of my favourite faces), you could probably have lit the whole of London Above with my excitement, if my excitement were electricity. That was a really long sentence, I apologise. (Except, I don’t because when I’m excited, which I am, I tend to talk really fast in really long sentences so it fits the purpose; read it quickly.) I was giddy. I have been clinging onto my copy of the book, the TV series and the idea of a sequel and a half-written short story for a long time (I am still clinging to the idea of a sequel, and How the Marquis Got His Coat Back).

The first episode aired at 2:30 pm (GMT) on BBC Radio 4 on March 16th and my listening journey had a rocky start. As anyone who may be my friend on Facebook will know, the internet at my grandmother’s house (where I am currently situated) has been misbehaving and Saturday was no exception. Loading the radio player was nigh on impossible and I was getting increasingly stressed; I could not miss this airing. I couldn’t listen to the rest of the episodes when they aired because of university and such but the first, I could not miss. Luckily for me, my father is a genius and remembered that Radio 4 is also on Freeview. I was saved and settled down in the sofa to listen.

I was not disappointed. The opening music was haunting and the voices of Messrs. Croup and Vandemar were delightfully creepy. James McAvoy portrayed the appropriate amount of confusion and distress as the newly-displaced Richard Mayhew, and David Harewood’s Marquis de Carabas was as sassy and enigmatic as ever.

One of my favourite parts in the entire novel is the Earl’s Court scene, so I was eager to hear what they would do with it. Christopher Lee is fantastic, his voice is one of those voices that you automatically associate with power but with that power this performance carried vulnerability. The Earl is a man who is not too in tune with his marbles and you can hear it in his voice. He made the scene. While the other characters in his court were good, none of them really stood out – not surprising when put alongside Christopher Lee.

However, I think the Elou Award for Most Incredible Performance (note: this is not a real award) has to go to Benedict Cumberbatch. The voice that crept into my ears was not the voice I was accustomed to hearing and just when I’d gotten used to that voice it turned into a feral thing, a wild thing. His is a voice which can be as tame and sweet as anything one moment and poisonous the next, it is masterful. He has all the airs of an angel (apt) and channels subtle trickles of madness into his words, which then crest into oceans by the end of the last episode. Fantastic.

This is the first radioplay that I have ever listened to (excepting Holly’s Outbreak teaser and an older work of hers which has since been taken off of youtube) and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect; I definitely wasn’t expecting it to be quite so ‘visual’. I wasn’t expecting to be able to see what I was hearing. While I would like to boast that it is a testament to my imagination, I would be lying. True, imagination is needed to some extent but most of the work is done by the sound effects, the mixing, the panning. Neverwhere is an immersive experience. Dirk Maggs is a genius.

The adaptation as a whole was perfect and something to be infinitely proud of, as a long-time fan I was more than satisfied and cannot wait until I can own it and indulge in it whenever I choose. I would definitely recommend a listen.