Neverwhere – if you listen to one radio drama this year, make it this

"This is a masterpiece" Jane Anderson previews the Radio 4 adaptation of Neil Gaiman's fantasy starring Benedict Cumberbatch and James McAvoy

Hundreds of feet beneath the streets of our capital is a city of shadows. In the sewer canals and disused Tube lines another world exists — London Below — and it’s home to the people who have slipped through society’s cracks, through choice or by accident. This is the setting for Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, a pitch-black fantasy written with a sense of humour as dark as the subterranean sewers and stations.

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And then there’s the stellar cast, which includes Benedict Cumberbatch, James McAvoy, Natalie Dormer, David Harewood, Sophie Okonedo, Anthony Head, David Schofield, Bernard Cribbins, Johnny Vegas, Andrew Sachs and Christopher Lee.

I listened to all six parts in a row, gripped by the unfurling story of a decent man (Richard Mayhew, voiced by McAvoy) who slips into London Below through an act of kindness and finds himself battling with bloodthirsty killers, shape-shifting women and a giant beast. Without any hyperbole, I can state that this is a masterpiece. The intricate layers of sound, the sumptuous orchestration and the haunting rendering of life underground bring a cinematic effect. Dirk Maggs’s sound design is a triumph.

If you listen to one thing this year, make it Neverwhere. And do yourself and the production a favour: play it through decent speakers in a darkened room. It’s worth special treatment.

Jane Anderson is Radio Times radio editor


Hear the first part of Neverwhere on Sunday at 6pm on Radio 4 Extra

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It continues on Monday, with five 30-minute instalments stripped across the week at 6pm on Radio 4 Extra