Peace in a Pod Entertainment

‘Shipworm’: A feature-length audio ‘movie’ that keeps you listening

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It’s movie night. Grab a bowl of popcorn, turn down the lights, put on your headphones, hit play, close your eyes...and enter the theatre of your mind....

You hear the crashing of waves, water against wood; the strains of a violin rise under and above the sound of the sea, and then, a faint, insistent voice emerges. “Wallace, are you there?” More burbling and lapping, mingling with the orchestral notes toward a crescendo.

Despite the sonic drama of the opening, the conversation that follows is typical separation fare: a couple whose words bounce off the un-hearing other. But that’s just background for a complex tale of corporate intrigue featuring a respected doctor struggling with demons from the past, a high-tech heist, and good old blackmail. Wallace Conway — army veteran and community doctor — is compelled by a strange voice channelled through an invisible earpiece (implanted while he was asleep) to perform a series of criminal acts. Otherwise, “The Conductor” says, his family will die. So, Wallace embarks on one task after another, teetering between believing he’s gone crazy and being very afraid for his family’s safety.

Shipworm is a feature-length audio “movie” produced by Two-Up Productions, the American podcasting company that created Limetown (2015), a critically acclaimed drama podcast that mashed up true crime with paranormal mystery, in the tradition of The X-Files. Limetown’s popularity prompted a television show (2019) and a novel that serves as a prequel.

‘Shipworm’: A feature-length audio ‘movie’ that keeps you listening

Writer Zack Akers brings to Shipworm the same style of psychological thriller that has just enough real-world detail in it to make you go, “Huh, this could actually happen!” The set-up is compelling; the central character is sharply drawn, and the action proceeds at breakneck pace, all unfolding against a rich aural backdrop. By the end of close to two hours, we’ve been through the wringer with Conway, feeling in equal measure hope and anger as we accompany him to the finish line where — possibly — he might be rescued and redeemed.

There is plenty of audio drama on the podverse, some serialised in half-hour bursts and others in even shorter chapters. Formats vary from scripts read aloud to full scale dramatisations with sound effects. After all, drama has been a staple of radio entertainment for decades. What makes Shipworm different is its length, which is comparable to the average feature film. This also makes it a more demanding listening experience; you must commit to the duration if you are to really immerse yourself in the story. It is nevertheless possible — but not very satisfying — to listen in bits and pieces.

Imagining faces

Of course, the experience of listening to a movie demands that you put faces to the voices, imagine the locales and the backgrounds, and fill out the personalities of the actors. Broadway stars Quentin Earl Darrington as Wallace Conway and Miriam Silverman as The Conductor offer convincing performances, but some of the other roles, less so. The plot too has its weaknesses, particularly the somewhat unsatisfying end. But still, it keeps you listening, and wondering, till that point.

Given that we are spending so much time staring at the glowing screen, it might not be such a bad idea to give one’s eyes a rest while our ears pick up the slack, and our minds colour in the rest. So grab that popcorn, pull on the eye mask, lean back, and listen. The Shipworm may just get [to] you.

The Hyderabad-based writer and academic is a neatnik fighting a losing battle with the clutter in her head.


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Printable version | Jun 15, 2021 1:15:23 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/shipworm-a-feature-length-audio-movie-that-keeps-you-listening/article34555189.ece

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