The first thing you notice about Lifeline Theatre’s stage adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novel Neverwhere is the stage itself. This dark fantasy inhabits a set reminiscent of an eerie underground sewer system, with the characters entering and exiting through pipes or revolving brick doors. The stage is frequently obscured by fog or illuminated by a colorful collage of light, giving the tale a gloomy yet magical feel.
Neverwhere tracks the journey of Richard Mayhew, who is dragged from his normal—albeit dull—life in London Above into the magical world of London Below, home to beasts, angels, and vicious assassins. The tale is completely predictable, but it is comfortable and well executed. There is a reason why this fish-out-of-water formula has been used for stories since time immemorial: It manages to be enjoyable throughout, with a heartwarmingly satisfying ending.
All the residents of London Below are outfitted in elaborate yet motley costumes, which makes their rapid changes even more impressive. All but a few of the actors play multiple roles, giving this play the feel of a much larger production. Though the flamboyant outfits, along with flashy production elements, threaten to distract from the story itself, the work is grounded by several superb acting performances. Chris Hainsworth gives a delightfully wicked portrayal of the unscrupulous and roguish Marquis de Carabas. Boldly swaggering across the stage, Hainsworth manages to steal the show from any of the main protagonists, despite his moral ambiguity.
Adaptor Robert Kauzlaric has his strong moments as the perpetually confused Richard Mayhew, but for the most part, his storybook personality simply serves as a backdrop to the much more engaging performances from the citizens of London Below that he meets along his journey. Kyra Morris dominates the thrilling fight scenes as the mysterious Hunter, especially in a creatively choreographed battle with the Great Beast of London. Katie McLean also does a superb job as Door, who alternates between a damsel-in-distress and take-charge heroine with flawless ease.
The play has comic moments, which do much to lighten what would otherwise be a fairly dark production. This contrast between humor and danger is exemplified in the duo of Sean Sinitski and Christopher M. Walsh, who bring the fun to villainy as the coldhearted assassins Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar. Both actors are able to remain ominous and disquieting, despite their condescending smirks, outlandish costumes, and deadpan humor.
The play thrives on the accuracy of its adaptation, which gives it a strong storyline and satisfies Gaiman’s fans, even though it does tend to run a bit long. The production drags in the middle, barely strung along by a series of wisecracks and fights. The viewer is shuffled from one underworld location to another, with an omnipresent sense of danger that soon becomes stale. The plot manages to pull together for a gratifying dénouement, but only narrowly avoids overstaying its welcome.
The production is also subject to Mikhail Fiskel’s relentless and constant score, which sets the tone for the events unfolding onstage. While it succeeds in creating an ominous atmosphere that pervades the play, its ubiquitous presence does more to detract from than enhance the overall feel of the work. It forces a tone, rather than trusting the actors to create the mood through their portrayals, which feels like overkill with such a talented cast.
Don't see Neverwhere for its inventive plot, but if you're simply looking for a fun romp through a convincing fantasy world, this is your play.