This review is spoiler-free.
Mark Gatiss stars as sinister raconteur, the Man in Black, in these 20 terrifying full-cast radio dramas.
The Man in Black is waiting to meet your acquaintance. Maybe you’ll meet him on a bus, in the supermarket or at an airport luggage carousel. Perhaps he’ll peer into your baby’s pram or approach you in the corridor of a care home. Wherever you encounter him, he’s eager to pass on his stories. Stories of darkness and death, myth and madness.
I’m not sure what I expected going into this audiobook. I’m well aware that ‘The Man in Black’ is an old and established property, but with this emphasis on new and modern horror stories, I did have some concerns. Happily, those concerns were unfounded as this anthology series features some genuinely terrifying tales. All the stories are very ‘in the now’, covering topics such as internet privacy, modern warfare, call centres and youth gangs. I went into some of these stories a little sceptical, given their subject matter, but without fail, at the half way mark, the stories come to life in some truly unsettling and unique ways.
As always with an audiobook review, I want to talk about the production, especially when it comes to a full-cast. I’m pleased to say that all the sound effects, editing and audio quality was first class! While I had the utmost faith that it would be, being a BBC radio production, there is always a chance that with the wrong editors or production staff that great work can quickly go astray.
In terms of the cast, Mark Gatiss aside, Toby Jones is probably the biggest name to feature in The Man in Black, giving a truly terrifying performance that will leave you feeling extremely unsettled. Other familiar faces to feature are Adjoa Andoh, Mark Bonnar, Tom Goodman-Hill, Nikki Amuka-Bird and Emerald O’Hanrahan. The cast is very impressive and easily feature over 30 other performers. Given the size of the cast, you would expect the performance levels to differ, but that is not the case. Genuinely, there was not a single bad performance! As for the Man in Black himself, Gatiss was devilishly delightful! He may only bookend each episode, but the way he conveys a playful yet insidious nature in a short space of time is truly impressive!
The most noticeable and pleasing aspect of this collection is the sheer volume of female writers and directors involved. I would say that the balance is probably 70-30. It is rare, unfortunately, that so many women are given their chance to put forward their voices and creativity. While I think this imbalance is a wider issue in general, it is especially noticeable in the horror genre. We are also given the chance to experience the voices of creators pulling from their ancestral heritage, which adds to the diversity of the stories included.
So, a great cast, emphasis on female creators, what are the negatives?
To be honest, the only criticism I can put forward is the unpredictability of the story quality. I don’t think there was a bad story to single out, but you do notice when there is a dip in quality from episode to episode. Some are great, some are fine, but that is always going to be the way with an anthology series comprising of so many different writers telling different types of horror stories.
The Man in Black is a well-produced modern horror anthology series, featuring stellar performances from the entire cast. While some stories are stronger than others, you will be left feeling truly spooked and entertained! I highly recommend you listening to these with the lights down low…