Rorshach Theatre’s newest big show is a stage adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s beloved BBC television series and fantasy novel Neverwhere. The production is certainly geared towards those who were already fans of the works. It’s an adventure at a whopping 3 hours (including intermission).
The story follows Richard Mayhew (Daniel Corey), a London resident who’s engaged to a relatively disengaged woman, Jessica (Thais Menendez). One day he stumbles upon a girl who has seemingly appeared out of nowhere, injured, and Richard tries to help get her off the street so that she can receive first aid. Instead of a peaceful, if odd, evening out with his fiancée, Richard is suddenly thrown into a complicated, intense, and strange adventure with the girl named Door. Her name describes her ability to open doors that don’t seem to be “there,” and is therefore both a gatekeeper and a key.
Door is being followed by a pair of unscrupulous mercenaries, named Mr. Croup (Robert Bowen Smith) and Mr. Vandemar (Lee Liebeskind). In the novel, Croup feels crueler and more insidious, almost Voldemort-esque, as opposed to what is seen in this iteration; wherein Croup is very animated and whose artfulness is amplified. Vandemar is just as thuggish, but the contrast between the two is better explored in the performances than the novel.
The reason Door is being followed is a whole lot of plot that I won’t go into, but essentially, an unknown entity wants her captured alive (injured is acceptable), and it’s the same individual who had Door’s entire family killed. Meanwhile, Richard finds that after his encounter with the girl and the two cronies, he’s seemingly ignored by everyone he knows, an invisible stranger. So, Door brings Richard into the Underground, otherwise known as London Below. There, they meet up with a strange man called The Marquis de Carabas (Grady Weatherford), who has his own adventure as he helps Door.
The theatre captures London Above and Below through mobile props and solid architecture. As a fan of the novel, I was excited to be immersed in the world Gaiman imagined. Atlas Theatre has a large black box that allowed the company to build platforms at varying heights and behind the audience seating (the best seats in the house are in front of the curtains). The reflective slivers hang from the ceiling to enhance one of the central elements of the experience: the lighting. Scenes that traditionally would require a large set piece, like a train platform full of people, are expressed through columns of light. In another scene set in a train car, the concept of instantaneous travel is amplified by flashing lights.
The plot itself may be a bit difficult to follow, but at times the play is both funny and exciting. It feels like an almost word-for-word interpretation, which may be exhausting for those expecting a truncated version, but will thrill fans. Several characters come and go so quickly that emotional impact can be lost as we’re thrown into the next chain of events. Scenes set in crowded areas are populated by doubling actors, with perhaps the funniest role of Master Longtail played by Liebeskind. There’s a bodyguard audition with fantastic stunt work by the actors, and a surprising agility from several actors.
If I am skeptical of anything, it’s the blocking; several actors spent most of the play with their backs to my section, leaving the other character they are in conversation completely obscured. Some of these moments were mitigated with distance between the actors, so perhaps that should be incorporated further, because otherwise it’s like looking at a shadow. Fortunately, the most important moments were clearly demonstrated, but it’s always a good idea to make sure that the talents of the cast are both heard and seen. For a show at this length, I’m very impressed by the endurance of the leads, and the show feels like a well-oiled machine already. I can’t imagine the show has anywhere to go from here but up.