"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!