This review is spoiler-free.
Since it was first announced that Neil Gaiman and Dirk Maggs would be teaming up to create an audiobook adaption of The Sandman, it is safe to say that I have been counting down the days in anticipation. As a huge Gaiman and Maggs fan, these two giants of their respective fields could only result in something truly special, right?
So, does The Sandman live up the hype? Or would converting this, tricky and unique, property into an audiobook be too much of a challenge for even the great Dirk Maggs?
When The Sandman, also known as Lord Morpheus – the immortal king of dreams, stories and the imagination – is pulled from his realm and imprisoned on Earth by a nefarious cult, he languishes for decades before finally escaping. Once free, he must retrieve the three “tools” that will restore his power and help him to rebuild his dominion, which has deteriorated in his absence. As the multi-threaded story unspools, The Sandman descends into Hell to confront Lucifer (Michael Sheen), chases rogue nightmares who have escaped his realm, and crosses paths with an array of characters from DC comic books, ancient myths, and real-world history, including: Inmates of Gotham City’s Arkham Asylum, Doctor Destiny, the muse Calliope, the three Fates, William Shakespeare (Arthur Darvill), and many more.
Based on the first three volumes in The Sandman series, Neil Gaiman’s iconic cult classic comes to life thanks to might of Audible, in this highly anticipated full-cast adaption.
The Sandman is directed by Dirk Maggs, and as you can imagine, this only enhances the overall experience of what is already an outstanding property. Maggs is the king of audiobook production, and here, he once again uses his exceptional talent to help craft and cultivate an outstanding audio drama. The balance of fantastic acting performances with slick pacing and great sound effects and music makes The Sandman a truly incredible piece of work.
In terms of the cast, it has been used as one of the main selling points. It consists of a plethora of talent including Riz Ahmed, Kat Dennings, Taron Egerton, Samantha Morton, Bebe Neuwirth, Andy Serkis, Michael Sheen and James McAvoy to name but a few!
This isn’t the first time McAvoy has delved into the world of Neil Gaiman, as he stared in BBC Radio’s full-cast dramatisation of Gaiman’s Neverwhere. When thinking of Morpheus, McAvoy is certainly not the person who springs to mind. Now, I’m a big fan of McAvoy, but admittedly I was a little apprehensive going into this. Thankfully, I had no reason to be alarmed. McAvoy is determined in his performance, and while comic book purists may offer some protest, I actually really enjoyed his interpretation. He switches from the peculiar to intense seamlessly, conveying a range of varying emotions and tones. It was simply perfect!
Being a DC property, we are treated to a range of cameos from more wider-known characters, John Constantine, Martian Manhunter and Scarecrow to name but a few. John Constantine is a personal favoutire of mine, and while the role, for me, will forever belong to Matt Ryan, I was impressed with Taron Egerton’s performance. True to the character, Egerton dives in two-footed with his Scouse accent, which we don’t usually get to that extent, when it comes to a heavy regional dialect of this kind. As enjoyable as his performance was, and as much as I like the actor himself, he just sounded a little too young for the role.
Kat Dennings has the difficult task of bringing the iconic Death to life, but she absolutely owns this tantalising role. You are instantly drawn into her performance which is full of snarkiness and confidence. As for Samantha Morten as Urania Blackwell? What a performance! One of the clear standouts in the entire audiobook. The cast, from leading to supporting characters, deliver performance after performance of high quality acting throughout. There is not a bad performance in the entire audiobook, and given the size of the cast that is an impressive feat!
So what are the negatives?
To be honest, they are few and far between, and for the most part they are only little things. First of all, I’d argue that, while I do like his other narrated works, Neil Gaiman’s narration here did stand out a little. Look, the man is incredibly talented, I’m a big fan, and this is not me saying it ruined the audiobook by any stretch of the imagination. But his role as ‘The Narrator’ did stick out among the other performances. This was mainly down to, at times, his very pleasant and cheerful delivery. This was in stark contrast to the more darker aspects of the story, so the back and forth between these moments was a little jarring initially. However, thanks to the eleven hour runtime, you do grow accustomed to this eventually.
The main issue I have with The Sandman is that it is, unapologetically a very faithful adaption. You could easily go from page to page of dialogue and story mirrors the comics to a T. Now I know what you are pondering, how is that a bad thing? Well, as much as I enjoy The Sandman series, there are some themes and ideologies that I think appear very outdated in 2020. Gaiman himself has said that there are story points, character types and themes that, if writing the story today, he would write very differently to match the current social climate. I once again found the Calliope arc very uncomfortable to digest, especially given the recent #MeToo movement. While on one hand, it portrays a very accurate assessment of the exploitation of women in the arts, a little more comeuppance would have been welcomed here to end this sub-plot on a much stronger note of female victory over male suppression and abuse. I just think they missed a trick by not updating some elements and modernising a few of the mini-story arcs.
Finally, I would say that if you are not aware of the characters, story or are used to Gaiman’s work then The Sandman could be a little difficult of a story to get in to, particularly early on. The lore and characters come thick and fast and the pacing leaves you little time to catch you breath to reflect and theorise on where the story is heading next.
So where does The Sandman sit among all of the other Audible Originals? Well, that’s easy, very much near the top! This is an exceptional audio production that perfectly translates from the page to your ears. This wonderful story, full of humour, darkness with rich characters who are superbly performed. The light, and at times very, dark moments complement each other very well.
What happens next? Well, I’d be shocked if they did not continue to adapt further tales from The Sandman series and getting this ensemble cast back would be vital for any further success. This team has found a winning formula and It would be a shame that if we did not see them reunited again in the future. The only change I would hope for is that they would update some elements and be less of a direct adaption, especially when it comes to the world we are living in today.
The Sandman is a resounding success that has been put together by an incredibly talented team and performers. This challenging story has been expertly transferred from page to sound and the care and attention to detail does not go unnoticed. Phenomenal cast performances and stunning sound and music design all contribute to a truly exceptional audiobook!
The Sandman is available now on Audible UK.