Good Omens – Radio 4 – December 2014

Good Omens
By Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
BBC Radio 4
23-27th December 2014
When you have been waiting for an adaptation, any adaptation, of a book you read 20 years ago, when one comes along you get giddy like a school girl on a Friday Afternoon with a Hockey Cup Final to go to. This pretty much sums up how I felt when it was announced that Dirk Maggs was going to be adapting Good Omens for Radio 4. Maggs has long been so far on top of my radio producer mountain that it would take an epic climber of the stature of Hillary to climb to the heights to reach him. Going back to his ground breaking work with his serial work for Radio 1 with the comic book characters Batman, Superman and Spiderman and then on to his work on the remaining Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy productions he has just marked himself out as a producer who is not afraid to take work that “seems” to be unworkable and “make” it work. I don’t really have any other way of putting it other than calling it ART.

Back at the start of 2013, when Radio 4 produced Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere it was Dirk Maggs who was at the helm and it was natural that he was there again to dramatize and direct Good Omens.

For those who aren’t in the know, shame on you, Good Omens is the age old tale of Satanic Cult swapping new born children and then Angels and Demons protecting the child to the point of the destruction of the Earth destruction… except… things don’t exactly go to plan.

This production has pulled together a cast of top performers who just naturally inhabit the cast of characters that were born to live in this world created by Messer’s Prattchet and Gaiman.

Aziraphale (an Angel) is played by Mark Heap and Crowley (a Demon) is played by Peter Serafinowicz. It’s not an understatement to say that these two actors are the reason this piece works as so very as it does. They are the constant force that drives the plot throughout the storyline. They hold the whole thing together as is demanded by the story.

The younger cast, the gang of “THEM” sound just as I remember them from the first time I read the book. That hasn’t happened since I first saw Hugo Weaving as Elrond in Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Rings (that was bloody spooky). Pepper was just the precocious tomboy with her own mind I imagined her to be when I first read the book, and the boys were just the gang of followers behind Adam (SPOILER – he’s the Antichrist shhhhh don’t tell anyone). It is an exercise in pure joy in listening to these kids in the final hour long episode (it was run in the Saturday Play slot). If Serafinowicz and Heap are the glue, the kids are they glitter that make this production sparkle. Adam Thomas Wright as the fearless Adam who has the weight of the world or at least Lower Tadfield on his shoulders shines. He really does make you believe in the innocence of a child that is just there. Bobby Fuller, Hollie Burgess and Lewis Andrews as the rest of the THEM are just brilliant foils to play with Adam. When the going is good it’s like a 1950’s comic strip, but when the darker elements are needed it is a masterclass in effortless acting.

It would be remiss of me not to mention a few of the other cast as they all do a marvellous job.

Phil Davis and Neil Maskell as demon enforcers Hastur and Ligur respectively are nice but dim, you know they are going to come a cropper against the wilier Crowley, but you just have to hear the way it’s done.

The Horsepersons of the Apocalypse are, for such a serious subject, a nice touch of comedic relief, War has a feminine touch in the hands of Rachel Sterling, Pollution has replaced Pestilence (Antibiotics did for him) is handled by Harry Lloyd Famine is delivered Patterson Joseph and the big man himself Death is Jim Norton. They are bikers, and it’s a fun way of showing them for the now generation, to quote Bon Jovi… On a steel horse I ride.

The Humans in the play are numerous. I would first like to give a MASSIVE hat tip too Mr Simon Jones (he of the most venerated Dressing Gown – Dent, Arthur Dent) He plays Adam’s Dad and brilliantly he does it too.

The book (and the radio play has a subtitle The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter – Witch. Agnes Nutter is voiced by Josie Lawrence, the part isn’t massive, but it pops up quite a bit throughout the whole set piece. Agnes is the bane of The Witchfinders Army whose remaining members are Shadwell (a grouchy Scottish madman who has probably seen The Devil Rides out 102 times to many) played by Clive Russell and the newly enlisted Newton Pulsifier who has a destiny that lies with a Japanese car that is very often confused with its orientation. Newton Pulsifier is played by Merlin star Colin Morgan and is another stand out star of this production (if you hadn’t been keeping count… they are all stand out stars so far). His youthful naiveté about Witchfinding is just so funny as it is relatable to pretty much everyone who wants a new hobby and jumps into something new and finds themselves slightly out their depth a bit too soon… (Hello me playing Rugby for my local team three weeks after joining the club… didn’t know the rules yet!!!)

The whole of Good Omens runs at just over 3 hours and 15 minutes and in my opinion can be enjoyed as a daily serial as it was intended to heard over a week or you can do “what the kids do these days” and “Netflix It” and binge on the whole thing at once and gorge yourself on the pure thrill ride that is Good Omens.

Some of my online friends have said that they haven’t heard the normal Pratchett humour in this, and I would agree that it is not in the same vein as the previous Discworld Radio productions or even really the Discworld novels (not that I have read that many of them), but I think the combination of Pratchett and Gaiman is an alchemy that should be heard at least once fully to be fully understood and embraced. It is something of a different beast and I think that beast links back to how I kind of opened this review and this should have been billed as a Pratchett, Gaiman and Maggs production because Dirk Maggs has his deft touch all over this and it is another golden arrow in his quiver of many.

As of today, you can still listen to the whole series on the BBC iPlayer FOR FREE for the next 3 weeks (First episode 3 weeks last episode 4 weeks… you do the maths.. get in there quick).

If you can’t get enough of what you hear on the iPlayer or what you have already heard on Radio 4 then you’ll be pleased to know that the BBC are releasing the series on CD on January 15th. There are over 50 minutes of extra material included on the CD release so well worth plonking down the £14 for the physical release from Amazon (I suggest Amazon as it’s slightly cheaper than the BBCShop and they have a price promise, I don’t get paid anything for suggesting them, I do however have a Prime Account that runs out in the middle of January so that cuts down the delivery too).

So regardless of where you buy the physical release I think it would be worth it for the almost extra hour of material.

So, was it worth waiting over twenty years for an adaptation of Good Omens? Did it live up to the hype?

You bet it did. Even if my favourite part of the book was left out of the series, it really didn’t matter. I know that all cassettes that are left in cars for any length of time will invariably turn into Queens Greatest Hits, I don’t need anyone to tell me (again).

If you listened to Good Omens or my review has tempted you to take a listen, why not let me know you thoughts on it in the comments section or drop me a note using my comments form. I’d love to hear what you have to say.

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Paul Hurwood

Paul is a frustrated entertainer. From a young age he wanted to be Elvis Presley, but Elvis objected to lending out his Jumpsuits at the weekend. As he grew older he tried to be an Actor, things there didn’t go so well either… the spotlights kept missing him.

Now Paul enjoys sitting back and writing about Music, Doctor Who and Mental Health. He has a passion for the blogging platform WordPress and enjoys helping out practically with day to day use of the platform where he can.