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Petrified podcast review: Keep your light on for everyday horror from a ‘darker Ireland’


Peter Dunne and Liam Geraghty, the creators of the Petrified podcast

Peter Dunne and Liam Geraghty, the creators of the Petrified podcast

Peter Dunne and Liam Geraghty, the creators of the Petrified podcast

In the mid-1980s, Tales of the Unexpected was must-watch TV in our house. For me, a young, spook-loving teenager, that show had it all. Composer Ron Grainer’s hypnotic swirly music, the swirly dancer of the title sequence, those sinister stories with their twist-in-the-tale endings… The low-budget production values went completely over my head because the show’s depiction of everyday terror was so all-encompassing. It wasn’t science fiction, fantasy, or even supernatural.

What made it terrifying was that extraordinarily awful things were happening to ordinary people. Terror can strike anywhere, Dahl was saying: terror comes from inside us. I hadn’t thought about Tales of the Unexpected in years, until I listened to ‘Cold Reading’, a recent episode from the Petrified podcast (widely available).

Written and directed by Peter Dunne and produced by Liam Geraghty, Petrified describes itself as a “horror fiction anthology podcast from a darker Ireland”, sharing the chilling tales of ordinary people encountering the supernatural, and the terrifying fates that befall them. In ‘Cold Reading’, former colleagues Holly and Jean are driving to a psychic reading (it goes terribly wrong, as you’d expect). They comment on how close people are to tragedy all the time: “One decision to do something at a particular time instead of five seconds later, and we both know a truck could plough into the side of this little car.”

Using a small cast, each episode tells a different story, making it more of a mini drama series than narrative fiction. Apparently scripts are written right down to the wire — even the cast don’t always know in advance where the story is heading. Originally broadcast in 2018, its first season of six spine-tingling tales won a New York Festivals Radio Award for Drama Podcast. Petrified has recently completed a third season, which is an impressive tally of fresh, bespoke content. With so little new radio drama produced in Ireland every year, it’s good too, to hear talented voice actors getting a regular outing; the Petrified ensemble includes Georgina McKevitt, Deborah Wiseman, Donncha O’Dea and Margaret McAuliffe.

Audio is a hugely freeing medium by comparison with screen. Petrified takes advantage of the possibilities of sound to great effect, creating immersive and highly atmospheric situations. My favourite episodes include ‘Rollover’, in which a lonely romance writer makes a date with danger when she attracts the attentions of an unusual fan; ‘The Loneliest Sound’, the story of a lighthouse keeper’s last night on the job and the stranded boat that signals for help; and ‘Ghost Estate’, in which a young couple, trapped by the recession in an unfinished street, come to realise they are not alone.

“Listen at your own risk,” the blurb says. Just keep the lights on.

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