Home » Barley Review: A Christmas Carol Thriller

Barley Review: A Christmas Carol Thriller

Barley from Storymore Podcasts cover art

The setup of this less than 40 minute audio drama from the Storymore podcast leaves much to the imagination. Perhaps too much. This faith in the listener can work wonderfully or bite the creator in the butt. For “Barley,” the imagination of the individual pales in comparison to the sense of a specific negative emotion the story elicits. It’s “A Christmas Carol” plot with suspense instead of allegory as the driving force.

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Tension + Confusion = Anxiety

Anxiety is powerful. It can stop someone in their tracks from doing the simplest of things, like making a phone call or trying not to get shot with a gun pointed directly at you. That last one is an extreme case and some would consider it fear. For me, Anxiety is just an extreme version of fear that’s different from a phobia. One is specific, the other is abstract and often caused by an internal response not an external one. Once the story hits the second half, the tension from the characters inside the story equate to suspense from the listener.

The story starts like every other old man learning a lesson. “Gran Torino and “A Man Called Otto” are two recent examples of this archetype. That of the curmudgeonly old man who hates people, but eventually learns to trust them. A Christmas Carol is probably the most obvious example of this type of plot. While the premise of “Barley” is similar, it doesn’t follow the typical formula found in almost every other story of this variety.

Pacing in Sound Design: On the Page and In Concept

Before the listener gets to the bulk of the story. A bit too much time is spent on trivial things the main character presumably does everyday. Maybe it’s the narration that bothered me most, as the delivery from Scott Henry borders on monotone and is definitely rigid choppy. Part of that I imagine is the writing. Writer/Director Micah Thomas uses short sentences. In a book this can give the reader a sense of quickly moving through the story. For some stories, perhaps too quickly. For an audio drama this one in particular, that fragmented staccato style combined with beautifully mixed ambient sounds makes that usual feeling of ripping through a story at blazing speeds. The result is a slower start than some people would expect, given the pieces that comprise it.

A Christmas Carol Plot as Psychological Thriller

The inciting incident occurs when a woman shows up at Barley’s door in his cabin in the middle of nowhere. She claims to have escaped her abusive boyfriend who she says planned on killing her. The boyfriend shows up later and says he’s her husband and the she’s mentally unwell. That’s the basic plot with some mild spoilers about events later in the story. There’s a reason I did this. More on that later.

The audio drama uses this concept of mental health as a defining trait for all three characters. There may be some nuance, but Barley tells the story from his perspective in the opening scene. It may shift to a more cinematic viewpoint when the woman shows up, but Barley has the most at stake in the story. They’re not groundbreaking by any means. Instead they’re small and unique to his character.

Allegory in a Christmas Carol: Journeys and Ends

A lot of audio dramas are series. “Barley” is a short story. Because it’s a shorter work, expectations are different. A rule of thumb is the shorter the story, the bigger the emotional impact needs to be at the climax. How you get there is as important as the climactic moment itself. This is true both for the person reading or listening, and the author themselves. “Barley” has a much more interesting journey to its end than the ending itself. The story finishes without the listener knowing what happened after the gunshot. It felt very writing 101. Not as bad as it was all a dream or the main character(s) were dead the whole time, but teetering on that edge. The end might not have been explicitly stated, but the journey there was rife with drama and conflict.

Lastly, I’d be remiss not to include this piece of behind the scenes story from Micah Thomas and the creative team of Megaleio Media. Megaleio uses 360-degree sound design created with the blind and visually impaired in mind or both listener and team behind the scenes.

“Our voice actors audio engineers and musicians are mostly blind or visually impaired, and thus we are able to provide a more sensitive approach to our work because of the community we belong to.”

Micah Thomas
CEO Megaleio Media/Storymore*

While my problems with the story certainly make more sense with that in mind. Those being the long ambient silence in the opening act and the confusion by the end of who shot and at who. A second listen might answer that question, but I’m dreading listening to the middle. Not because it’s bad, but because that specific aspect worked so well.

8.5-/10 Stars

*Storymore is a subsidiary of Megaleio Media