Ra­dio 4’s take on Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys is set to be epic

SFX - - Red Alert -

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.

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