Sunday, October 27, 2013

Audio Book Review: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

I recently picked up a copy of the new cast dramatised Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. I reviewed the graphic novel adaptation earlier here in case you want some background.

Featuring James McAvoy, Natalie Dormer, Benedict Cumberbatch, Anthony Head, David Harewood and Sophie Okonedo it's impossible to think of a better cast to bring this strange and wonderful tale of London Underground to life.

If you fancy a listen then you can get the book through Audible online.

In the meantime, follow me under the cut for a review of this live cast version of Neverwhere.

Being familiar with the characters and general premise of the story really helped me get my head around the live action dramatisation in this audiobook, because though it is beautifully executed, I wonder if the nuances of the story come across to new listeners who have not read the book. If you do listen to this audiobook without any prior knowledge, let me know how you go.

That small gripe aside, I could not have picked a better cast to bring to life these characters and this story; my one regret is that this wasn't a live action production.

James McAvoy brings our point of view character and general Londoner Richard Mayhew to life magnificently. I say magnificently because I find Richard to be a little bit of a wet blanket. Although he is really hard done by, in the graphic novel it was difficult to see him as anything other than a scared sulk that one might pity rather than sympathise with. It was difficult in the end, to revere him as a hero of the story. McAvoy's portrayal makes him more the every man, charming and likeable whilst clearly making some questionable choices; the centre of his own universe but willing to learn that he is wrong. His characterisation is also rationally afraid of things and appropriately firm in disagreement. Almost immediately I found myself engaged with his cheeky banter and caring deeply for his plight in both wanting to return to his old life and knowing that it was never going to be the same.

With this improvement under the belt Natalie Dormer only served to intensify my utter love of Door - our heroine and ass-kicking Lady of Portico. Dormer's Door is everything I could have hoped she would be; mild and fiery at will, exhibiting strength and vulnerability, wit and fear. She effortlessly engages with her fellow cast members and their characters, which is integral as Door is the one who brings their group together and keeps them together. Her performance with James McAvoy is particularly impressive as they organically build a friendship and connection merely with their vocal intonations. It's fantastic to listen to it as it unfolds.

I could not imagine David Harwood as the Marquis de Carabas and throughout his performance, although it was more than adequate, I felt disconnected from his character. This might have been deliberate to allow more characterisation and focus on other characters that were perhaps left in the Marquis’ shadow on page. In the graphic novel, de Carabas is one of my all time favourite characters, deeply interesting and intelligent, cunning and unpredictable. I suppose that Harwood did just enough to keep him relevant and on the radar whilst understating the performance. Interestingly, as I mentioned in my previous review of the graphic novel, Neil Gaiman had commented that the Marquis de Carabas was his version of The Doctor (of Doctor Who). This allusion was perfectly executed at the end when Richard finds the Marquis and they have a very Doctor/Companion like exchange. It made me so happy I started grinning in pubic and thought I might have to tell Gaiman that, were he to take over Who in the future, he had his leads!

Assassin Mr. Croup is immiscibly the wonderful Anthony Head who executes the role with real slime and Benedict Cumberbatch's Angel Islington is wreathed in a hazy and unearthly tone. Sophie Okonedo's Hunter was a pleasant surprise for me, as I was sure that as much as I loved Hunter, nothing much would be added to her character. Okonedo's performance was layered with humour, humanity and ferocity.

All up, the audio dramatisation of Neverwhere is a wonderful addition to any audiobook collection, packed with great performances and sure to leave you craving more stories from London Underground.

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