From the Chicago Tribune
‘Neverwhere’ at Lifeline: Descending into Neil Gaiman’s richly imagined London Below
May 12, 2010
By Chris Jones
In his graphic novel “Neverwhere,” Neil Gaiman posits a second, subterranean London where real shepherds tend Shepherd’s Bush, an earl dominates Earl’s Court, and actual angels frolic in Islington. I don’t know if they’d have the same trouble with a parliamentary election in Gaiman’s creepy parallel universe of London Below, but if head to Lifeline Theatre, you can get a taste of a fantastical world populated, as one of its denizens says, “by those who fell through the cracks.”
Actually, Robert Kauzlaric’s adaptation and Paul S. Holmquist’s epic production combine at Lifeline to offer rather more than a taste. More like a full-on banquet of the senses.
Theatricalizing Gaiman is a tricky business, especially in one of Chicago’s smaller theaters. His fans are fervent, feasting on the metaphors and existential truisms that his fantasy fiction kicks out. Furthermore, his all-embracing alternate universes encourage you to sketch them out in your head. If you read Gaiman’s “Coraline” before you saw the movie, you’ll know what I mean.
Actually, “Neverwhere” began life as a BBC mini-series (the novel grew out of the original teleplay). And it shares some qualities with the likes of “Dr. Who” and “Life on Mars.” The story has a mild-mannered protagonist named Richard Mayhew (played by Kauzlaric himself), replete with a desk job, a fiancé and a superhero lurking within. After he stops to help an injured woman – who turns out to come from London Below – he finds himself on a rapid descent into that needy altered universe of misfits, miscreants and moral dilemmas. Can he get back? Does he want to get back? And could his boring above-ground world ever be the same? Such are the questions of the night.
I wouldn’t say that even Holmquist’s long show has a lot of time to ponder the quieter themes of Gaiman’s extraordinary work, or layer in a great deal of theatrical texture. It’s too busy telling the core adventure story, which has an intricate plot, and doing justice to the fullness of Gaiman’s imaginative world. And in those very important areas, this show is a remarkable achievement.
The creative team at Lifeline throws in everything from a puppet Lord Rat to a grandiose mythical beast or two – and the narrative pounds along in a very satisfying fashion. Unlike the Hollywood take on Gaiman, Lifeline inevitably creates a less intrusive environment – there is a clear visual picture of London Below in Alan Donohue’s very shrewd design, but it’s mostly a noir world of shadow and motion. Your own imaginations can remain alongside. Fine performances abound, including Kauzlaric’s Richard and Katie McLean’s spunky Door and Phil Timberlake’s creepily beautiful Speaker/Islington. As Old Bailey and others, the terrific Patrick Blashill evokes the emotional core that makes Gaiman’s work so distinctively compelling, while Chris Hainsworth and Christopher M. Walsh have the comedy cavern down cold.
Few American theaters can do this kind of thing – with such imagination, dignity, humor and judicious restraint – quite like the master storytellers at Lifeline. And thus it is safe to take Gaiman fans, young and old, to “Neverwhere.” They’ll immediately see that their guy – and the worlds he has stuck inside his readers’ heads – are in sensitive and aptly exciting hands.
From Time Out Chicago
May 17, 2010
By Kris Vire
London Below, the subterranean domain created by popular author Gaiman first for a 1996 BBC miniseries, then a 1998 novel, is a mash-up of the medieval and the modern that lurks in the peripheral vision of everyday Londoners waiting in Tube stations or browsing at Harrods. It’s a cutthroat place where Shepherd’s Bush is patrolled by shepherds you don’t want to meet, and “mind the gap” is a grave warning indeed.
Everyday Londoner Richard Mayhew suddenly discovers it after he tends to an injured young woman he finds on the sidewalk, a refugee from Below named Door. The next day he learns he’s been erased from his own life: his ATM card useless, his apartment rented, his fiancée and coworkers showing no recognition of him. He’s fallen between the cracks into London Below and must seek out Door to regain his life Above.
Whether in comics (Sandman) or prose (American Gods), Gaiman traffics in mythologies. Neverwhere is his archetypal hero’s quest, and Lifeline’s skillful staging is remarkable in its efficiency. Kauzlaric’s adaptation is faithful in letter and spirit, but he knows where excisions must be made; he also leads the stellar cast of nine (just nine?!) with a savvy, relatable portrayal of Richard as a stranger in a not-so-strange land. Holmquist’s choreography of the action makes a stage smaller than most living rooms seem sprawling; the design team’s elegant representations of settings that bridge the real and fantastical are truly astounding. Kauzlaric doesn’t quite solve Gaiman’s biggest problem, the overlong denouement, but Lifeline’s production is an exhilarating glimpse into a world just out of sight.
From the Chicago Sun-Times
Lifeline walks on the dark side
May 10, 2010
By Hedy Weiss
A modern-day Dickensian tale with bits of Freud
“Watching the lavish artistry and endless imagination now at play in Lifeline Theatre’s world premiere production of ‘Neverwhere’ — Robert Kauzlaric’s zesty stage adaptation of British writer Neil Gaiman’s first novel — it is easy to see why Lifeline recently racked up 14 non-Equity Jeff nominations. The artists and craftsmen who work with this ensemble are masterful.
“Consider the world conjured in this psychological fantasy — a consciousness-warping epic of self-discovery (and self-destruction, too) that plays like a super-violent, modern-day Dickensian yarn laced with a good bit of Freudian undertow.
“The story begins mundanely enough as Richard Mayhew (well played by tireless adapter Kauzlaric) works in his London office and then heads out for an important event with his upwardly mobile fiancee, Jessica (a shape-changing Elise Kauzlaric). Along the way, Richard insists on rescuing Door (a neatly volatile Katie McLean), a strange, wounded beauty lying in the street. She leads him to a dangerous, prisonlike underground “counter-London,” very much like a network of antiquated tube stations full of bizarre and threatening strangers. It is a place from which it is nearly impossible to escape.
“There is sharp character work by Chris Hainsworth (neatly ambiguous as the Marquis); Sean Sinitski and Christopher M. Walsh (terrific as the sadistic duo); Kyra Morris (as a sleek, unreliable huntress); Patrick Blashill (as the raven stew-eating Old Bailey); and Phil Timberlake (an eerie Angel). And the design team — Alan Donahue, Kevin D. Gawley, Elizabeth Powell Wislar, Charlie Alves, Kimberly G. Morris (superb puppets), and Mikhel Fiksel (chilling music and sound, heightened by the real trains that run outside Lifeline) — is superb.”
From Centerstage Chicago
May 10, 2010
By C.S.E. Cooney
RECOMMENDED: a “Must See” show
“Down here in the magic and the sewers and the dark,” is Lifeline’s “Neverwhere” in a single, succinct (and stolen) phrase. This remarkable adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s urban fantasy novel brings the nightmare Wonderland of underground London to life.
On pure aesthetics, “Neverwhere” scores high for the choreographed vision of its design team. Kevin Gawley turns light into wizardry. Luminous pinwheels appear in midair, neon bridges float in the darkness, subway tunnels, mazes, rooftops and corporate offices are all lit or shadowed with equal panache. Alan Donohue’s sets are as versatile as a playground, foreboding as a demolition site and zany as a funhouse. The sound effects by Mikhail Fiskel add mood and subtlety. Wislar’s costumes magically multiply nine actors into twenty-three characters, who in turn populate two entire cities – London above and London below.
The ensemble, of course, has something to do with this happy alchemy. Whether they are manipulating puppets (pigeons, rats and something else much, much bigger), flashing their straight razors, flapping their cloaks or leering through eye patches, the actors remain focused, invested and dexterous of dialect, all while conveying the distinct impression that they are having the time of their lives. Robert Kauzlaric’s (also the adaptor) Richard Mayhew is bewildered and earnest – but never without a keen sense of the ridiculous. McLean’s Door is impatient and aristocratic. Hainsworth’s Marquis is quick-witted and deliciously dry, his ironic courtier’s bow right out of another century. And the villain brothers, Croup and Vandemar? Terrifically funny. Vile. Wear cravats.
Lifeline does for fantasy what WildClaw does for horror – gives us spectacle and story so ambitious and colorful, poetic and vulgar, heroic and homely, it’s like eavesdropping on your favorite author’s waking dream. “Say goodbye to the world you knew” – indeed!
Fascinating adaptation of Neverwhere is spellbinding entertainment
May 11, 2010
By Tom Williams
“The creative artists at Lifeline Theatre present another wildly engaging adaptation of a novel. This time adapter Robert Kauzlaric and director Paul S. Holmquist have chosen the 1996 urban fantasy novel (and TV mini-series) by British novelist Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere… [The] quest is filled with action, humor, stellar combat and scary moments. You’d be hard pressed to find finer tech elements or better performances than from this ensemble. The eight players — Patrick Blashill, Chris Hainsworth, Elise Kauzlaric, Robert Kuzlaric, Katie McLean, Kyra Morris, Sean Sinitski, Phil Timberlake and Christopher M. Walsh — each contributed quick costume changes and expert character portrayals giving the show a large cast feel. Terrific accents (kudos to dialect coach Eva Breneman) and fine stage combat thrilled us. Neverwhere is an adventure into the world of urban fantasy well worth experiencing.”
From Chicago Now
“Neverwhere”: Desired Destination!
May 11, 2010
By Katy Walsh
The term ‘mind the gap’ takes on new meaning as an unsuspecting nobody slips through the cracks to the London underworld. Lifeline Theatre presents NEVERWHERE based on Neil Gaiman’s bestselling novel. Richard has a stressful job, pushy fiancé and troll collection. One night, he notices an injured woman on the street. By helping her, he gets sucked into a parallel world below London. The damsel in distress is from a noble family with special powers for finding doors. Her family has been killed. She is being chased by hired assassins. She recruits Richard to help her uncover the conspirator. A legendary house has no doors. Mystical community coexists on train platforms. Death is not a final destination. The adventure jumps off the comic book page and onto Lifeline’s stage. Where can you find the intersection with a strong script, stellar cast and spectacular design? NEVERWHERE!
The fantasy journey starts with the execution of a tight script. Robert Kauzlaric has adapted the complexity of the below London universe into manageable informative scenes. The dark adventure unfolds with hilarious dialogue. Paul S. Holmquist directs the action with all the zing and whack worthy of any superheroes’ quest for justice. Holmquist’s pace is pure Marvel page turner. To create chaos, he recycles cast members in crowd scenes. He’s aided in the disguise by costume designer Elizabeth Powell Wislar. The underworld garb is an eclectic explosion of renaissance fair meets the cartoon version of “Good Fellas” with healthy helpings of feathers, suede and rubber. To hide the colorful wardrobe choices in crowd scenes, Wislar strategically puts dark hats and overcoats on the cast. The vibrant dress is a strong contrast to the severe industrial style set. Alan Donahue has transformed the Lifeline Theatre into below Gotham. It looks authentically gothic lit up with a bus station glow or shadowed in red by Kevin D. Gawley. R&D Choreography brings the fight! Mikhail Fiskail sets it all too original music. It looks and sounds like these designers collaborative powers could rival the Hall of Justice league.
The cast rules the underworld with humor and a barter system. Kauzlaric (Richard) endears as the unlikely hero with a bumbling vulnerability and a strong Scottish accent. Katie McLean (Door) leads the charge as a noble heroine chasing the truth. Sean Sinitski (Croup) and Christopher M. Walsh -no relation (Vandemar) are the hired assassins. ‘Croup & Vandemar: nuisances eliminated, obstacles obliterated, bothersome limbs removed & tutelary dentistry,’ announces Mr. Croup as he answers the telephone. Sinitski and Walsh are a killer comedy duo. Sinitski is the fast-talking animated leader to Walsh’s deadpan delivery. Chris Hainsworth (Marquis) delivers the elegant, arrogant sarcasm with aristocratic gallantry. The stoic bodyguard, Kyra Morris (Hunter) is a Watchmen in the making. Patrick Blashill (Old Baily, The Earl, The Abbot), Phil Timberlake (Gary, The Fop, The Angel) and Elise Kauzlaric (Old woman, Jessica, Anaesthesis, Lamia) amuse in memorable smaller roles. This ensemble puts the eXtraordinary in X-men.
NEVERWHERE is a blockbuster comedy, fantasy adventure. Bringing it to the stage, Lifeline Theatre tackled the mission improbable with amazing results. It’s full feature entertainment that will make you be a little nicer to people on the Red Line… the ones you see and the ones you don’t.
From Gapers Block
May 10, 2010
By Randall Colburn
“Neverwhere, which opens tonight, definitely feels like a work of Gaiman in tone and atmosphere, reveling in the cheeky dialogue, creeping menace, and murky ambiance that’s intrinsic to his work… Neverwhere follows Richard Mayhew, a desk jockey and displaced Scotsman, as his selfless attempt to help an injured girl unwittingly draws him into a dark, labyrinthine world beneath the streets of London. If he ever hopes to make it back to London Above he must do all manner of epic and huge and brave and wild things, all the while running with and from the sleazy and dangerous denizens of London Below. Sean Sinitski and Christopher M. Walsh, playing the hilariously sadistic duo Croup and Vandemar, are an absolute delight, their dry banter and garish demeanor heightening a menace that’s nothing but playful. Spirited supporting performances from Kyra Morris and Chris Hainsworth feel most in line with Gaiman’s work, offering us complicated characters who transcend the stock types at their core… Lifeline’s adaptation is beautiful to watch, consistently amusing, and briskly paced by director Paul S. Holmquist, never feeling close to its 150-minute running time. Fanboys, take a deep breath: they’ve done it justice.”