ALONG CAME A SPIDER
Radio 4’s take on Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys is set to be epic
Charlie is a young man trying to find his voice
it’s possible that in 22 years of SFX, there’s never been an actor quite so enthusiastic as Jacob Anderson (Game Of Thrones’s Grey Worm) about a project. “Anansi Boys is a fantasy epic, with more heart than any fantasy epic that I’ve ever seen, or read, or heard.”
Anderson, a self-confessed geek (“I keep getting offered jock roles in American things, and that’s not me”), is a major fan of Neil Gaiman’s 2005 book. So when he says of the upcoming Radio 4 adaptation, “I was really surprised with how faithful it is to the book – I think it adds to the book and gives it extra life,” you can’t help but get excited too.
Anderson stars as Charlie, a listless Londoner who discovers he’s the son of African trickster god Anansi (Lenny Henry), then gets a visit from a brother he never knew he had, Spider (Misfits’ Nathan Stewart-Jarrett). Due to air at Christmas, the six-part series (five halfhour episodes and a hour-long finale) is written and co-directed by Dirk Maggs, who previously adapted Gaiman’s Good Omens, Neverwhere and Stardust for Radio 4, as well as the post-Douglas Adams Hitchhikers series.
It’s shaping up to be the biggest Gaiman adaptation so far and is co-directed and produced by Allegra McIlroy, who’s in the midst of editing a flamingo attack when we speak to her. She thinks the story is especially suited to the radio medium.
“There’s an element in this one which is very music-based. It’s both metaphorically and literally the story of a young man finding his own voice. So it really does lend itself to radio because you can play with music and song. And wonderfully, Jacob has written us a song for the climactic moment.” Handily, Anderson has a musical side, releasing under the name Raleigh Ritchie. The song won’t find its way onto one of his albums though: “It’s too tied into the narrative,” he says.
Gaiman has had a keen involvement in the project, even finding time to record a cameo and make casting suggestions along the way. “It’s a kind of balance between being incredibly creatively supportive and being incredibly busy for him,” says McIlroy
Lenny Henry’s inclusion in the cast was a shoo-in. Henry inspired Gaiman to write the novel when he helped make Neverwhere (1996) and the two fell into a discussion about how there were never any black leads in horror stories. Not that Anansi Boys turned out to be horror. Henry has since read the audio novel and also played both brothers, Charlie and Spider, in a 2005 radio adaptation.
“He plays Anansi, the trickster, storytelling god,” says McIlroy, “and there’s something wonderful about him playing the father when he’s been the sons; it connects with the storytelling theme. Maybe this sounds mad but a big part of the story is how we hold onto stories. Stories from our families, stories from our culture; stories from our past. So having a story that’s connected by one person at different stages in their life, that felt like a little bit of magic in the Neil Gaiman style.”
Anansi Boys airs on BBC Radio 4 at Christmas.
Life’s tough when your dad turns out to be a god.