Radio Drama

As if we needed more proof the UK is awesome.

By Beth Meroski

Most everyone has heard of the radio drama The War of the Worlds, produced in 1938 by Orson Welles.  This adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel of the same name is famous for causing quite an upheaval upon its original transmission.

I don’t think people (or enough people to my liking…) are aware of the number of creative and excellent radio plays that are still being produced today.

“Radio is a dying medium”, you say.
“Bollocks!”, I say.
In the UK there is a very popular radio drama called “The Archers” which has been on the air for 60+ YEARS and has up to 5 million listeners every week.  Although we might perceive it as so, radio dramas such as this are not just for the bourgeois elite class – in fact, the majority of people who listen to “The Archers” every week are middle class shmucks just like you and me.

“But that’s the UK! This is AMERICA!” you say.
“Pish!” I say.
I think there’s plenty of proof that the British Isles is, and has always been, a dependable source for creative content.

“But don’t you think the podcast is basically the new-media version of the serialized radio drama?” you ask. (Golly you have a lot of questions.)
“Barmy!” I say.
Okay, well yes, podcasts have the added benefit of being available on-demand. But! Contemporary radio drama producers are aware that the postmodern (or post-postmodern if you adhere to that school of thought) man/woman doesn’t always have time or room in their busy schedules to commit to live radio broadcasts.  These days, radio dramas are often released in podcast or streaming form following transmission. Plus, I don’t think it has to be one or the other – it’s all about preference.  And nostalgia is definitely in.  This past year there was a massive retro revival, so hey – maybe a radio drama resurgence is next?

Here are some recent radio plays I would recommend lending your ear to.  It should be noted that these are all BBC productions.  While I’m sure the US does produce some quality radio dramas (The War of the Worlds was!), I have little to no awareness of them.  If you know of any awesome contemporary US radio plays (other than A Prairie Home Companion / Guy Noir, Private Eye – I hate that crap) please let me know and I’ll give a listen!  

The Second Mr Bailey – Stream Here
A haunting drama about young lodger who finds himself slowly turning into a replica of landlady’s absent husband.  A short story (45 minute) and a good introduction to radio drama for those wary of the medium.

Life and Fate 
– .rar Download Here
Featuring the vocal talents of: Kenneth Branagh, David Tennant, et al.
I am currently making my way through this eight-hour colossus of an adaptation of Vasily Grossman’s epic Russian novel (is there any other type of Russian novel?).  The sound quality of this work is eerily good, and the story is endlessly gripping. Life and Fate is headlined by the voices of the ridiculously talented (and handsome) Kenneth Branagh and David Tennant.  Here’s a video of them talking about the craft of radio drama (and being handsome).  I was going to write some lame joke about them definitely not “having faces for radio”, but then I decided against it.

The Lady of the House of Love 
– Stream Here
Featuring the vocal talents of: David Tennant
This is turning into a David Tennant love fest.  That is not the intent.  The man just has an amazing, versatile voice.  In this short drama he voices a slew of different characters and does a faultless American accent.  It’s also a truly creepy and wonderful horror story – a real proper vampire tale that Craig Ferguson would approve of.

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