In considering the works of Neil Gaiman, it is difficult to think of a contemporary writer whose stories have so completely exploited the full range of multi-media possibilities of current media technologies. From comics to to audiobook and film, Gaiman’s stories epitomize transmedia storytelling.
Thus, when I sat down to view Lifeline Theatre’s live stage production of Neverwhere, I had my doubts. Works of fantasy offer a particular challenge for live theatre in that the fantastic often translates poorly to the limitations of the flesh and the material world, resulting in bad fur suits and the omission of many favorite passages.
I need not have worried. There are so many good things about Neverwhere that my first thought when it was over was, “I want to see that again.” Lifeline Theatre’s motto is “Big Stories, Up Close,” and they definitely fulfill that promise, delivering a production which not only retains all the wit and imagination of Gaiman’s story, but which also vividly demonstrates the immediacy and creativity of live theatre. My only regret in seeing this show is that I don’t live close enough to attend more of Lifeline’s future productions.
Directed by Paul S. Holmquist, the story was magnificently adapted by Robert Kauzlaric, who not only kept in all the good parts but also plays Richard Mayhew. On the night I saw Neverwhere, however, Dan Granata, one of the understudies, played Richard to wide-eyed perfection, so I can honestly say that even the understudies in this production are superb.
Katie McLean’s portrayal of Door is perhaps a little less fey and a bit more tough than the character in the book, but this only serves to make Door more real. (Note to Watership Down fans: McLean will be directing Lifeline’s adaptation of that novel next season.)
Chris Hainsworth plays the Marquis de Carabas with as much sardonic wit as one might wish, while Sean Sinitski as Mr. Croup and Christopher M. Walsh as Mr. Vandemar deliver deliciously shiver-worthy performances.
The entire cast is topnotch, and this is all the more impressive because most of the actors play multiple roles, including manipulating the puppets. Kimberly G. Morris, the puppet designer, deserves mention for the rats and pigeons, though I’m not sure if the Great Beast of London was a puppet or a costume. Either way, it is a most wonderful monster, and if one wishes an additional thrill, I would encourage one to try to get a seat in the front row, as I had. Mikhail Fiksel, who does the original music & sound design, also did an exceptional job in evoking atmosphere and setting the scene through some very notable effects.
(Chicago May 14, 2010)