I have been a fan of Robert Rankin’s work since The Antipope, enjoying his weird and wonderful sense of humour and the fact that most of his books are based in and around a pub. Because we all know beer makes nearly everything, including prose, more entertaining.
When I was given this audio extravaganza to review it was a shock, as up until now Rankin’s work has been severely overlooked for adaptations into other media. Meanwhile, other fantasy authors – and you can guess who they are – have seen their work on audio books, in computer games, and even on television.
However this fantastic audio adaptation by the BBC, and more specifically Elliott Stein and Neil Gardner, shows that Rankin’s work is perfect for translation into other media. The Brightonomicon is a strange book in many ways to adapt, as its neither a standalone piece, or part of the Brentford books (which of course started with the legendary Antipope), falling in-between. That’s not to say its not a great book of course, yet for me it’s an odd choice to adapt. It really works, though.
What is inspired is getting David Warner to play Hugo Rune, the ‘star’ of the book. For those who have never read Rankin’s work, Hugo Rune is a mix of Aleister Crowley, a game-show host and L. Ron Hubbard, if you can imagine that. Known by many names (the Gurus’-Guru, the Most Amazing Man Ever Lived etc…) Rune is one part genius and three parts con-man, with an ego as big as his well-fuelled tummy. A likeable know-it-all who has never paid for a meal in his life, Rune spends his days revelling listeners with the prowess of his own intellect while at the same time saving the world from various bad and scary thingumies that have a tendency to appear throughout Rankin’s books.
So with over seven hours of listening to do I sat down with a pint of ‘large’ and tucked into the audio delight that was this book. The nearest I can come to as far as comparison is concerned is The Hitchhiker’s Guide, as the audio play is not a direct copy of the book or a ‘reading’ of the novel, but rather an adaptation of the novel into play form. Starring as I have previously mentioned the venerable tones of David Warner, it also has Rupert Degas as Rune’s acolyte Rizla, as well as Andy Serkis as the evil Count Otto Von Black. Also along for the ride and helping proceedings are Kevin Eldon, Ben Miller, Danny Eastman, Rich Fulcher, Sarah Douglas, Ian Lee, Jason Isaacs and Hitchhiker’s veteran Mark Wing-Davey, all of whom help bring Rankin’s wild imagination to life.
The story revolves around Rizla, who starts his life with Rune… well, dead. And as such he’s indebted to him for saving his life. Joining him in his quest to track down and solve the riddle of The Brightonomicon, Rizla and Rune then have to tackle a set of tantalising and tasty mysteries and stop Count Otto from using the knowledge of The Brightonomicon to take over the world.
Each of the epic short stories are tied together nicely via numerous trips to restaurants (never paying of course), drinking scotch, going to the pub and generally having a jolly good time of it all. So whether it’s solving the ‘curious case of the Centenary Centaur’ or investigating the ‘baffling business of the Bevendean Bat’, Rune and Rizla’s adventures are never dull. And while at times it seems that Rankin’s ramblings have little or no cohesion, it does fall cleverly into place. The play moves along at a cracking pace, slowly dropping clues and ideas to the overall conspiracy.
Listening to a story you have only imagined and played out in your head is actually quite strange, and it’s quite superbly done. Neil Gardner – with the help of some terrific casting – has really brought Rankin’s take on 1950s Brighton to life.
The CD box-set not only has the entire play on a set of lovely looking rune encrusted disks seven discs, but it also comes with ‘extras’ which include production podcasts with the director. And best of all there’s a great podcast called ‘Talking Toot’ which has Rankin chatting away about the audio serialisation of his book. It’s cracking stuff.
Overall this is a superb venture into a new media, and Rankinphiles will undoubtly be impressed with the translation of Rune and co into a play. It catches the tone and flow of Rankin’s writing perfectly, and really captures the unique imagination of the writer (as the Hitchhiker’s adaptation did with Douglas Adams).
I for one hope this is but one of many Rankin adaptations, and with fingers very tightly crossed let’s hope this opens the ears of listeners, decision makers, and commissioning editors. Because Rankin’s work is ripe for further adaptations, be they radio or television based.
For now, though, enjoy this lavish and quite brilliant audio adaptation. It’s very highly recommended.
Brightonomicon can be bought here.