On Saturday March 16, BBC Radio 4 broadcasts the first part of a new adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novel Neverwhere. The story tells of Richard Mayhew, a Scot living an ordinary, dull life in London until he helps an injured girl on the street – and finds himself embroiled in London Below, the magical twilight world that exists just out of sight of the capital we all think we know.
You may remember a BBC television series of the same name – and you may remember it not looking very good. The 1996 series came in at the tail end of the multi-camera, badly-lit videotape way of shooting drama. Its onscreen realisation never really lived up to the ideas contained within it.
Gaiman rewrote the story in novel form, where the pictures can be much better. Similarly, radio is such a great means of producing fantasy stories: the imagery becomes a collaborative effort between the author, the performers, the sound designers and, perhaps most importantly, the listener.
This adaptation stars James McAvoy as Richard Mayhew, with Natalie Dormer as Door, David Harewood as the Marquis de Carabas, Sophie Okonedo as Hunter, Bernard Cribbins as Old Bailey, Benedict Cumberbatch as the Angel Islington, Anthony Head and David Schofield as Croup and Vandemar and Christopher Lee as the Earl.
Interestingly, the Radio 4 Saturday Drama is just the first instalment of the adaptation. After that is repeated on Radio 4 Extra, the digital network will continue the story with a further five half-hour episodes. It’s a curious experiment in scheduling which I hope works. I’ve been listening to the first episode this afternoon, and it’s a faithful, evocative adaptation that deserves to go down a storm.