“Neverwhere” takes audience to new world

Roxanne Ready, Editor-in-chief

The Theatre at AACC’s effects-filled production of “Neverwhere” quite literally set the stage for a fantastical journey of self-discovery in a dystopian London underground.

“Neverwhere” as a play first found life as a TV series, and was novelist Neil Gaiman’s first attempt at writing for the small screen. Gaiman adapted the show into a book before the first season premiered. Playwright Robert Kauzlaric later molded that novel into a play that premiered in May 2010 at Lifeline Theatre in Chicago.

The Theatre at AACC made excellent use of the play’s casting flexibility—Kauzlaric wrote the script for nine to 28 actors. AACC’s production included a cast of 12 people, yet it was never confusing when the same actor represented a new character. A variety of accents and distinct body language, coupled with consistent and unmistakable wardrobes for each character, made each role easy to distinguish.

The two lead actors were the only two who did not play multiple roles. Both executed their characters well, and Grant Scherini’s rendition of his character Richard Mayhew’s character-defining Ordeal of the Key on the train platform was especially impressive.

The variety and individuality of secondary characters came as a surprise, especially with the small cast in mind. Characters ranged from an “average” businessman—coworker to the main character and one of his links to his “normal” life—to eccentric “rat speakers”—cutthroats who live in the sewers and take their orders from rats. A dim-witted, sadistic assassin and a beat-boxing monk shared nothing in common but the actor portraying them. Similarly, the same actor played both a muscle-for-hire mercenary and an ephemeral angel.

The set was as multifaceted as the actors. Stagehands wheeled multiple set pieces on and off set for nearly every scene. Screens above the stage displayed simple scenic images to further imply locations such as city streets or underground tunnels. Audio effects—all  made in-house—included thunderous beasts, busy markets, magical portals and ordinary office spaces, setting the tone of each location. Finally, the crew employed colored, sometimes strobing lights, fog effects and a gauze screen to complete various illusions of location and space.

The play included numerous memorable moments, battles and climactic events. The hero fought a great beast, portals opened and closed between dimensions, villains cackled and skulked. The very absurdity of the characters made them at once fantastical and engaging.

A particularly memorable scene was a simple one in which stagehands wheeled The Earl, played by Annie Gorenflo, to center stage on her throne, a ramshackle pile of found objects and trash. Gorenflo portrayed the character as larger-than-life, a beneficent ruler presiding over her domain of knick-knacks. Meanwhile her court jester, Tooley, played by Alec Moyes, kept running commentary while peddling chips from the inside of his coat like the archetypal shady watch salesman. Although the makeup here fell a bit flat—it wasn’t clear at first that The Earl was meant to be an old woman—the entire scene was nevertheless one of the funniest in the play.

Like most amateur performances, the lines were delivered a bit too fast, a bit too often.  Actors never spoke the lines so fast as to make them difficult to understand, but they frequently delivered them too quickly to sound natural. This was especially disappointing when either of the lead actors made this error.

The actors did not have microphones, which overall was not an issue. However, the character of Old Bailey was far too soft-spoken. As the character is an information broker, it was particularly frustrating for audience members in the front row unable to hear the information he passed on to the characters.

Overall, AACC’s production of “Neverwhere” made the small, relatively unadorned Kaufman Theater into a world apart. Despite a few faults common among amateur actors, the characters were believable and engaging, with the many over-the-top scenes and lines delivered with conviction and enthusiasm.

Viewers will enjoy their time transported to the underground city of London Below and will no doubt be happy to visit again.