In Review

Podcasts of the week: the chilling, the scary and the fearful

Featuring The Apology Line, The Battersea Poltergeist, 10 Things That Scare Me

With the arts world “largely in hibernation”, the launch of a major podcast is “as close as we get to a big cultural event these days”, said Robert Jackman in The Spectator. The Apology Line, from Amazon-owned Wondery, was released last week and shot straight to the top of the “most downloaded” charts. It is about a conceptual artist named Allan Bridge, who in the 1980s invited New York’s criminal classes to record anonymous confessions on an unmanned phone line. The idea was to shed voyeuristic light on the city’s darkest corners. It is narrated by Marissa Bridge, Allan’s widow. She has a slightly “wooden” delivery, said Fiona Sturges in the FT, but that doesn’t matter: this is a gripping tale, grippingly told – and the recordings alone make for “remarkable” listening. “Some are tinged with sadness and shame; others carry the sound of a weight being lifted. A handful are downright chilling.”

If it’s chills you like, the The Battersea Poltergeist is a “hugely entertaining” telling of a 1950s mystery, said Miranda Sawyer in The Observer. Written and hosted by Haunted presenter Danny Robins, the BBC podcast skilfully interweaves three elements. First, there’s the real-life cold case: a “poltergeist haunting” that continued for several years in a family home in south London. Robins looks at contemporary newspaper accounts; explores the notes of a “paranormal investigator” involved at the time; and speaks to the girl whose home was affected – the now 80-year-old Shirley. Then there are dramatic re-enactments, with Toby Jones as the investigator. At first I found these stagey, but I soon started to relish “their Gothic campery, the sudden noises, the screams and palaver”. And under it all there’s fantastically “strange music” that heightens the atmosphere of “mad theatrics”. It’s “fabulous” stuff: enjoy it on headphones in the dark. 

The long-established American serial 10 Things That Scare Me calls itself “a tiny podcast about our biggest fears”. It is certainly “bite-size”, said Madeleine Finlay in The Guardian. Each episode, in which guests (some celebrities, some not) discuss their private fears, is just five to ten minutes long. “Some fears are given no more than a few seconds to hang in the air before the guest moves on.” But the format works brilliantly, with each fear – from spiders, to climate change, to falling off a cliff – uncovering a slice of someone’s personality and life. A common theme is that many of us are scared of both “serious and silly” things. “In fact, pushing the big and small together is one of the things that makes the podcast so enjoyable (and reassuring during a time when it feels like there’s a lot to be scared of).” 

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