Neil Gaiman and his fantastic mind are an-always welcome escapade in this household, and today I take a closer look at this brand-new release from Demon Records, who keep their top-quality track record, in both a vinyl and creation sense, with this new release for Nevermore, by Neil Gaiman. This set contains two full-cast dramatisations of two stories, on 5 LPs, which take us into a side of London we’ve never witnessed before. It’s another beautifully designed boxset, which even includes an exclusive print, signed by Neil Gaiman no less, limited to 500 copies.
As well as few shots of what you’ll get, which deserve all the attention, this one is certainly a radio adaptation I highly recommend. Originally broadcasting on BBC Radio 4 in 2013, this is a genuinely top-quality production adapted by the very dependable Dirk Maggs, whose audio work with Gaiman has scattered several years now with such titles as Stardust and The Sandman, plus that Douglas Adams’ fella and his Hitchhiker’s Guide, which also isn’t too shabby a tale and radio play!
Ever got what you ever wanted and then realised you hadn’t got it at all?
As a little dash of history, Neverwhere was originally a 1996 BBC Two TV series but it was a time unlike now, and I was there, even if the writers popularity existed. Although that series might not have the big budget – and momentous success – of the likes of American Gods or Good Omens today, it holds oodles of spirit and if you love how stories are created, and how imaginary worlds build, then there’s still so much to love in the TV series world of Neverwhere. Originally co-created by Gaiman and Lenny Henry, the writer also developed the world into a novel, released the same year but as we moved towards this version, Maggs modified the story for the radio, and then also co-directed with Heather Larmour, alongside a wonderful cast.
Telling the tale of Richard Mayhew (voice acted by James McAvoy), he’s a man who doesn’t have the highest esteem for himself, and is eager to never cause too much trouble, but appears to be a good soul at his centre. On a night out with his fiancé in London, they encounter an injured, bleeding girl on the musky streets. While his other half, Jessica (Romola Garai), thinks she’s homeless and trouble, it’s clear that Richard wants to do the right thing and help the girl, who’s named ‘Door,’ even though his other half wants to leave her there. Fuelled by the moral desire, Richard decides to assist Door but, in that moment, he disappears from the existence we know, and into another world entirely, as now he’s in London Below and no-one in London Above can see him. But, you see, at first he doesn’t realise this, even with a plethora of strange happenings and a flat that doesn’t even seem to be his anymore, but that’s not the weirdest thing as everyone down here seems a little different, and we’ll learn that he’s now amongst the world of people who’ve fallen through the gaps, with rats who hold a high importance and, worst still, Richard is stuck here with them.
While some things look the same in the city, they’re aren’t and all he knows is that he needs to find the girl named Door, to see if she still needs his help and for some guidance over what the hell is going on. He believes he doesn’t belong here, but where does he belong – and where will he end up next in London Below? I truly don’t want to ruin a fantastical, captivating story if you don’t know it, or haven’t heard this version, but I can tell you that Neverwhere is packed to the arches of the railways bridges you can walk under, along the secret pebble beaches, of the Thames with characters, and Neverwhere has so many positives. Some of the strongest moments involve an endurance for survival, the fight and desire for personal redemption and an even more gratifying journey towards a better self.
Mind The Gap…
James McAvoy is perfect for Richard Mayhew and offers an exceptional performance as the man whose entire life is changing rapidly. It’s an unknown opportunity for him to learn about himself and his capabilities, and to break those restrictions he’s made on his own ability (promise I’m not mirroring here). Richard will become a person who keeps on going – even against the odds. McAvoy is committed to the character, and this is demonstrated constantly, which takes you deeper into the story, as you’re effortlessly and exquisitely hauled into this splendidly darkened and murky underworld adventure.
I was entranced by the murk and magic in London Below, all those well-known places like Blackfriars, Knightsbridge, Earls Court, The Old Bailey, The Angel Islington and more take on an entirely new life, and brand-new characters figuratively grow from the stonework that surrounds them. While this is a parallel universe to London above, it’s thriving in unusual ways and everyone does what they can to continue, and the fantastical is very much alive and tricking.
McAvoy is a really fun central focus, and everyone alongside brings their A-game. David Harewood brings to life a mysterious and important Marquis de Carabas with an authoritative air, Natalie Dormer is equally ethereal and honest as the Lady Door, Sophie Okonedo is the strong and enigmatic Hunter, Anthony Head and David Schofield as the vividly ghastly duo Croup and Vandemar (who we need more of), there’s the lovely tones of the late Bernard Cribbins as Old Bailey (and this whole set is dedicated to him *heart*), the iconic sound and style of Christopher Lee as the Earl of Earl’s Court, Johnny Vegas as Lord Ratspeaker and then the punch of Benedict Cumberbatch as Islington, and even a cameo from Neil Gaiman – I mean, what an ensemble!
Throughout the opening three episodes, named London Below, Earl’s Court, and The Angel Islington, you get a smart build-up of character, story crossovers and when we hit chapter 4, The Black Friars, the stakes are so high and it brings some insane intensity, and you’re there in that space as he goes through the hugest of tasks. After that, there’s a slight lull (for me) but as for any story that unravels, this might come down to my personal love for the mysterious over the explanation or reveal. However, once we’re into Market Afloat and the big finale in The Key, it balances out the overall story arc, and gives our lead character a fine narrative of adventure and a sense of personal redemption for this true self.
Great characters, a vivid reconstruction of the city and if you know London it helps, but it also flipped a lot of those places for me, the places, the stations, the smart play on words and the fact that you wish you’d produced the idea yourself. I’d say visit them in ‘real’ life and have a listen or take the novel and read it around the city.
The extra bonus you get is How the Marquis Got His Coat Back, which tells of a mission for the Marquis de Carabas, and an encounter with an old enemy… and that vinyl even gives us an extra vinyl with a laser etched image of London Below on Side H. It’s also a fine chance for Paterson Joseph to return as the original actor for the Marquis de Carabas, and the addition of Adrian Lester is an excellent one, plus a few favourites as well new and entertaining characters, all broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in late 2016.
All this is housed within a solid, well-designed box set with 5 records in 140g black vinyl, there’s exclusive sleeve notes by Neil Gaiman, and more other lovely tiny details for you to discover – go on, head out that door for another adventure…
Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere Record Collection is out now, order here: https://amzn.to/3vXZKqA
Does every story have a happy ending?
Does every life stay the same?
You just need the right key for the right door…