on 10 February 2008
I hadn't realised just how good a writer Robert Rankin was until I heard this wonderful dramatisation back in 2003. The Audio Antipope is an eight-CD set, running to a little under ten hours, bravely complete and unabridged. Full cast list included after the review here...
I had previously read and loved some of the later Brentford novels, of course, but nothing in fact from the seminal pair of volumes that started it all. I specifically link 'The Antipope' and 'The Brentford Triangle' in this way, of course, for two startlingly good reasons. First, about one-third of the 'Antipope' ms had to be culled before Pan would publish it, and much of this material found its way into the sequel. Second, this abundence of preparation, combined with Robert taking the opportunity to write around-the-clock (as opposed to several months part-time) meant that the sequel was practically finished in about three weeks. And I now know what he means when he says that, once they are let loose, Messrs. Pooley and Omally and their contemporaries usually 'write themselves'. There is little sense here of pain in the composition, only (quite rightly) pain in the experiences of the characters themselves, as they are carried along only semi-voluntarily in a flood of unnatural events that at first glance belong in Brentford like a herd of rhino belong in the English National Ballet. Stranger things have surely never happened.
Pooley and Omally are a delightful pair of cowardly, malingering dipsomaniacs loosely based on the author himself and an old schoolfriend of his. I pass no judgement on the matter. The characters around them all have something of the night, even if the night in question is just a typical one at Brentford's Flying Swan public house once the blinds and bolts are down, for they are all of the author's real-life acquaintance, athough Norman's shop is in truth not so Norman's as it was twenty-odd years ago, and I use the term 'real-life' purely for the sake of brevity. Precis? The lads team up with the aged and kindly local enigma that is Professor Slocombe to fight the ancient evil that befalls their Borough. They drink, are intrigued, drink, make enquiries, drink, get into trouble, drink, get distracted, drink, fight, run away, drink some more and fight some more and finally meet the end of the novel where they pop off for a quick drink in readiness for the next one.
As Director and Co-Producer, not to mention uncredited cast member, extra and (most importantly) Editor, the remarkable Phil Viner has achieved here something that makes your typical audio book sound like canal mud drying. The casting is strong and performances thoroughly professional, right down to some wonderful little cameos by friends old and new. Greenhalgh, Crowe and Gooderson are believable as Pooley, Omally and Slocombe, while Murchie and Campbell make a suitably deranged Neville and Archroy when required, and special credit has to go to Harry Myers for bringing the title character to life without stifling his theatricality.
Under Viner's direction, the author himself has been thoroughly whipped into shape as a starring narrator. Robert's son William's music is a revelation, matching the moods of many scenes and building atmosphere beyond the reach of most radio productions. And Robert's then-partner Sally performs perfectly alongside Robinson, as brewery salesgirls Sandra and Mandy, among others (if you haven't heard of Lucy Robinson yet, buy a bloody television). This is marvellous late-night listening, that would be Radio 4's 'Book at Bedtime' for an entire month if the BBC management weren't still a load of talentless inbreds.
Andy Greenhalgh as Jim Pooley
Ben Crowe as John Omally
Robert Rankin as The Narrator
Nick Murchie as Neville
Colin Campbell as Archroy
David Gooderson as Professor Slocombe
Harry Myers as [Pope Alexander VI]
Sally Hurst as Sandra
Lucy Robinson (Pride & Prejudice, Emma, lots of telly) as Mandy
Directed by award-winner Phil Viner.
Produced by Jools Viner and Phil Viner.
"All other parts are played by members of the cast", although Norman was clearly one of those played by the Producer-Director himself.
Original music composed and performed by William Rankin.