During the climax of the second season of Fleabag, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s character – drunk, lonely and increasingly desperate – confessed to a priest. “I want someone to tell me what to wear in the morning. I want someone to tell me what to wear every morning. I want someone to tell me what to eat. What to like, what to hate, what to rage about, what to listen to… I just think I want someone to tell me how to live my life, Father, because so far I think I’ve been getting it wrong.” Fleabag was a character who acted mostly on impulse, but longed for some inner conviction, belief or voice to guide her down another path. In the fiction podcast Soft Voice, the anxious 25-year-old estate agent Lydia (Naomi Scott) has exactly that, an upstanding inner voice telling her how to live her life the “right” way.
[See also: The Apology Line is a curious, compelling listen]
Soft Voice (Bel Powley) tells Lydia what to wear, what to say and which yoghurt to eat each day. (Light Greek-style peach and passion fruit is excellent for apartment viewings due to the absence of whey.) Thanks to Soft Voice’s meticulous guidance, Lydia is the most successful agent at her London office – until Soft Voice goes silent. Lydia begins to break down under the weight of everyday decisions; her inability to know what is right, or what she might like, is intolerable. Then, Dark Voice (Olivia Cooke) moves into Lydia’s mind and, with a shrug, disinclines to tell her what to do – but slyly encourages her to do what she wants.
Cooke, speaking in her Mancunian accent, is a seductive pleasure, layering notes of impatience, sarcasm and affection into her voice as she leads Lydia towards a more reckless life: nudging her to skip work, drink champagne in the middle of the day, dye her hair, flirt with a barista, and begin filing compliments under “The Truth” instead of “Polite Lies”. Slick production infuses the opening episodes with a hazy, gently hallucinogenic quality (the series comes from the young but glossy LA production studio QCode, which has developed a niche in scripted audio series voiced by Hollywood actors). Soft Voice captures the soothing appeal of clear instruction, and the existential terror of decision-making when your own inner monologue is absent.
This article appears in the 28 Apr 2021 issue of the New Statesman, The new battle of ideas