American radio dramas, once the pride of the medium, died out soon after the rise of television. But U.S. listeners in search of continued dramatic innovation over the airwaves need only turn their ears toward the other side of the Atlantic, where the BBC has kept the craft in sturdy working order. This Saturday, March 16, brings the debut of a much-anticipated BBC Radio 4 series adapted from the work of a British storyteller with inter-generational, international appeal, and a hybrid fantastical-realist sensibility all his own. The writer? Neil Gaiman. The drama? Neverwhere. Astute fans will know that Gaiman crafted this “urban fantasy” series first as a television series, and then as a novel. It went on to become a comic book, then a stage production and now, adapted by Dirk Maggs, a radio play. Has the man’s work transcended all limits of form?
When Neverwhere begins, non‑U.K. residents can listen on the BBC’s site here. At the moment, it offers a slew of preview clips to give you a flavor of just how Gaiman’s material sounds as interpreted by cast including James McAvoy, Natalie Dormer, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Christopher Lee. With just music, sound effects, and the voices of these formidable thespians, the BBC’s experts will tell Gaiman’s story of two Londons: “London Above,” the one we all know and some of us love, and “London Below,” the city’s underground parallel inhabited by the grotesque, the flamboyant, the anachronistic, or—depending on your feelings about London Above—the more grotesque, the more flamboyant, and the more anachronistic. Hear what happens between these two visions of London with Neverwhere’s first, hour-long episode on Saturday and its subsequent five half-hour episodes from Monday, March 18 onward. All episodes will stay available on demand until March 29. You can read more details on the BBC Radio 4 Neverwhere about page.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.