If you've read my review of Neil Gaiman's book - and I recommend that you do because I talk about its plot - then you'll know that Neverwhere has a somewhat unusual history. It started off as a miniseries that Neil Gaiman was commissioned to write for the BBC. It starred Peter Capaldi as the Angel Islington, Patterson Joseph as the Marquis de Carabas, and Laura Fraser as Lady Door. The miniseries wasn't a huge hit but it later went on to gain a small but passionate cult following. However, Neil Gaiman wasn't happy with the miniseries because the producers had cut many of his scenes. This was partly due to time constraints and partly because they simply didn't have a big enough budget to present Gaiman's ideas onto screen. Gaiman then decided to adapt his original script into a novel and - although the miniseries does have its fans - the general consensus is that the novel was a huge improvement. This recent BBC radio drama is an adaptation of the novel and Neil Gaiman was much, much happier with it than he was with the miniseries!
I completely recommend this radio production. It was an absolute joy to listen to and I really can't praise its cast enough. Sadly it's sometimes the case that when big-name actors agree to do voice work that they phone their performances in but that's absolutely not the case here. No-one phones it in and every single actor is clearly giving it their all. And they're all perfectly cast! There isn't a single weak link and they all have chemistry with each other! It must have helped massively that the actors were all together when they did the recordings. James McAvoy gives a wonderful performance as the protagonist Richard Mayhew. In the book Richard is a bit bland but he's still fairly likeable. However in this radio drama McAvoy brings a real charisma and strength to the character. He's also very funny. James McAvoy is one of my favourite actors and at this moment in time I think his performance in Neverwhere is my favourite that he's given so far. I loved him as Richard and it was really cool to hear him act with his real-life Scottish accent for once! I've only ever heard McAvoy act with various English and American accents before. Natalie Dormer brilliantly portrays Door's innocence, sweetness, bravery and sadness. She has especially great chemistry with James McAvoy as well. Apparently both of them are massive Neil Gaiman fans in real-life and were among the first to sign up for the project. You can read a lovely article in which Dormer talks about what it was like to make Neverwhere here. Romola Garai is superb as Richard's self-absorbed fiancée Jessica and is very funny. To be honest the role of Jessica is simply too small for an actress of Garai's talent but I'm still really glad that she took the role on. She's one of my favourite actresses, she does a great job with what she's been given, and I really enjoyed listening to her. I've been a massive fan of Anthony Stewart Head ever since he played Giles on Buffy the Vampire Slayer - which is one of my all-time favourite TV shows without any shadow of a doubt - and he's brilliant as the assassin Mr Croup. He's just so awesome at playing villains! I really wish that Buffy could have done an Evil Giles episode because it would have been fantastic! Head is seriously creepy and menacing in Neverwhere and is very well paired-up with David Schofield as Mr Vandemar. Sir Christopher Lee is just awesome as the Earl of Earl's Court. Lee has such a powerful, commanding and aristocratic-sounding voice that it makes him perfect for the role. However, the Earl is also doddering and a bit senile and Lee played this brilliantly as well. I know Bernard Cribbins from his role as the honorary 10th Doctor companion Wilfred Mott in Doctor Who. I loved Wilf and Cribbins did such a wonderful job at playing him. Cribbins is also a very experienced voice actor and in Neverwhere he's wonderful as the Old Bailey. I loved him in the role. He brings so much kindness and warmth to the character just like he was able to do with Wilf. Neil Gaiman has also got a couple of minor roles in this production of Neverwhere, playing both the security guard Mr Figgis and the Fop with No Name. Surprisingly he was really good too! OK, I doubt that RADA will be asking him to join their ranks any time soon but he's clearly having fun in the roles and is very funny as the Fop. I haven't seen a huge amount of David Harewood and Sophie Okenado's work before but needless to say they were both brilliant in Neverwhere as the Marquis de Carabas and Hunter. They played their characters exactly as I imagined them from the book. And finally there's Benedict Cumberbatch as the Angel Islington. Oh, wow! Benedict Cumberbatch is one of my favourite actors and I knew he'd make an amazing Islington. He's such a fantastic actor and his voice work is fantastic in Cabin Pressure (another BBC Radio 4 production that I'd completely recommend!) Cumberbatch is fantastic in Neverwhere as well. OK, I'm going to have to give a spoiler about the book away now so you might just want to skip to the next paragraph. Okay... 1-2-3. In Neverwhere it turns out that Islington is the one who arranged for Croup and Vandemar to assassinate Door's family. He's the main villain of the book. I've seen Cumberbatch play a villain before thanks to Star Trek into Darkness. He was amazing in that and he's amazing in this too! I can't wait to hear his Smaug in The Hobbit now! Cumberbatch uses such a deep and creepy voice towards the end of the radio drama! And, according to Dirk Maggs, Cumberbatch performed his extraordinary voice with no technical aid or computer wizardry whatsoever! After hearing the voice that he uses below I think you'll have to agree with me that the voice he uses in Neverwhere bodes very, very, very well for Smaug! Cumberbatch even sings in this brilliantly! OK you can tell that he isn't a technically great singer but his acting sells the song sooo well!
I know that for many years fans of the book have been clamouring for a big-budget movie adaptation of it but, honestly, I would never want Neverwhere to be adapted into a movie now! I love this radio adaptation that much! The cast give stunning performances. The sound effects are very impressive and really help to build up the atmosphere. There's some very haunting choral music in it. It's also extremely faithful to Gaiman's book! Much of the dialogue is the same and only a few scenes from the book are left out (like the Serpentine scenes). It's three and a half hours long and the story doesn't feel rushed. It brilliantly captures the tone and spirit of the book. Just like the book, this radio production is exciting and suspenseful and dark and very funny. That being said very little of Gaiman's narration is actually used in this radio production so I'd still completely recommend the book even to people who come to this version first. Again, I love this radio production and I would only want a movie adaptation of Neverwhere if they could get every single actor from this radio drama on board.
Finally, I have to praise Neverwhere's 20 minutes of bonus features. After the drama ends we get 10 minutes of bloopers and outtakes and then two extended scenes: we get a longer version of Richard, Door and Hunter's meeting with the Earl and then a longer version of the final confrontation with Islington.