Monday, April 15, 2013

Radio Drama Review: Neverwhere

These days I spend a lot of time in front of a computer screen working on homework and while sometimes I don't want to listen to anything and just want to focus on my homework often I do want something playing in the background. I prefer podcasts to music, since it's too easy to end up fussing over music and not getting anything done, but after burning through a dozen podcast episodes in a few days I enjoy listening to something else and radio dramas are just the thing. Sadly I know of basically no other radio dramas (the only other one I listened to regularly, the Fruits Basket fan one, seems to have died again) and have no idea where to start looking for recommendations so when the adaption of Neil Gaiman's book Neverwhere popped up on the BBC website I gladly gave that a listen.


Summary: Richard Mayhew was living a fairly average life in London when he takes in an injured young woman off the streets for the night. Come the next day he's discovered that no one seems to notice him and that those who do have no idea who he is. He manages to track the woman down again (Door) and she tells him that since he helped someone from London Below, which is quite literally what it sounds like, the people of London Above won't notice him as well anymore and with no better options he joins Door on her quest of revenge for her family's death and hopes that he'll find a way to return to his former life in the process. 

The Good: I hadn't realized at first that this story was based on an actual novel (erm, that was adapted from a tv series apparently), I thought it had been written as a radio play, and it seems to have been adapted rather smoothly. There are enough details, both spoken and as sound effects, to set the scene and it's easy to tell who is in what scenes and when the story has switched from one character's point of view to another. The acting was rather nice as well, I never had trouble figuring out what emotions any of the characters were going through, despite the lack of facial cues, and yet it never felt like the actors were overacting and hamming it up to make those emotions clear. Finally, while the podcasts I listen do don't have terrible production values by any stretch of the imagination, they clearly have people working on them who know how to work the equipment and what to do in post-production, there was still a noticeable difference switching between those and these episodes. There's a richness  to all the sounds which may be simply from having more advanced equipment or might be from having actual sound engineers to work on the show. Regardless, this sounds great in every respect, from the acting to the foley and other sound-effects, if this is the level of quality most BBC radio productions have then I really want to track down more of them. 

The Bad: There were a few minutes for multiple characters that just felt, well, rather odd for them. There's a turncoat character whose reasons I never quite found to be understandable, I of course knew how Richard's story would end but still felt like it was a little too neat (which might have been more of a result of condensed pacing than anything else) and other small moments like these. I also wish that the story had explained a little better why people in London Above stopped noticing Richard (the story might have explained it and I just missed it or it could all just be a very unsubtle metaphor for people not noticing the homeless and such, although I don't think that's quite right either), although I was fine with how the rest of the magic in the story worked.

I suppose another bad thing is that while the BBC website has the first five episodes up and will until mid-March next year they only had the final episode up for one week and I'm not sure where people can listen to it. I would imagine that they'll have a complete set for download on itunes or maybe even produce a CD sometime later this year but it does seem like a bit of a strange strategy. Regardless, I give this production 3.5 stars out of 5 and if anyone knows of any other great radio dramas (I believe the director also did the recent radio drama of The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy which I would love to hear) by all means comment and tell me about them!  

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