Review: Hairy Hands FM, Chronic Insanity
3.0Overall Score

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For a complete neurotic horror-phobe like me, the idea of bringing immersive horror into the safe space of my home through a mobile and some headphones sounds like an absolutely terrible idea. But, in Chronic Insanity’s short audio drama, Hairy Hands FM, the blend of folktale, horror and immersive technology is a more cathartic experience than you might expect.

On entering the performance by dialling a number on the neatly fabricated call screen that appears on my phone, I’m cast with ease and simplistic flair as a radio phone-in contestant. In the first segment, I’m waiting in the caller queue, listening into the show as hosts, Sarah and Trevor (Abbi Davey and Alex Steadman), discuss the legend of the Dartmoor hairy hands — a pair of phantom, disembodied hands, blamed for forcing drivers off the road and causing fatal accidents since the 1920s.

Later, becoming sole witness to the hands materialising and attacking the studio, the hands turn their hairy havoc onto me in my home. It’s then down to Trevor to guide me around my space, helping me to hide from and eventually defeat this freaky force.

Radio is a great dramatic habitat for this story — especially since commercial radio and the legend of the hairy hands both had their conceptions in the 1920s — so it’s a very satisfying place to bring this particular folklore into this age of digital theatre. There’s something in the live, crackly quality of radio, too, that effortlessly sets the scene for horror. Because of this, any extra droning music and cheesy heartbeat sound effects feel redundant and oversaturated.

Whether written smoothly into Joe Strickland’s script, or into the preliminary instructions, the context and technical guidance are established with absolute care and attention. Much of the story is driven onward through nifty voice activation, and the clear yet candid delivery from each performer that speaks to me raises the stakes to really make these interactions feel as live as possible. Just enough is asked of the audience to keep us gripped in the participatory elements.

For Hannah Parsons’s intensely live and immersive sound design to really swallow you into the story, it relies a fair bit on the conditions of your physical environment. I’d definitely agree that the piece needs to be experienced at night, when confused co-habitants and good lighting won’t try to suck you away. Relying on a lot of material and technical factors, the chilling potential of the sound isn’t quite strong enough to survive on its own.

While the image of a pair of disembodied hands chasing you around your home may seem more comic than petrifying (even if the sounds they make are pretty horrifically believable), it’s clear that Strickland’s goal was to make this experience as accessible as possible. Horror is definitely at it best when it wreaks uncertainty over the most familiar of spaces. However, when I’m instructed to conquer the hands once and for all by flushing them down the loo, the imagery strays a little too far into the degrading and ridiculous, undermining the tension right at the crucial end.

The blend of home and horror that Hairy Hands FM offers is a welcome space for processing the world of fear and uncertainty we’re currently living in. But, left more impressed with the slick and resourceful production than I was invested in the story, Chronic Insanity still have a bit of a balance to strike.

For more information and to experience this production for yourself, Hairy Hands FM is available to experience directly at Chronic Insanity’s website.