Here are the dramas you should listen to when you’re not in the mood for a podcast.

The BBC gave us a beautiful gift when, in 2018, they created the app, BBC Sounds, which brings together the corporation’s radio, music and podcasts.

At its launch, the BBC director general said: ‘BBC Sounds is a standalone, and standout, destination bringing the best of everything we do in audio into one place. It allows us all to experiment – to explore new music, stories and ideas – to play with form and content. And it’s going to support a whole new generation of talent.’

The app’s brilliant archive reminds us that high-quality drama is not the preserve of the stage alone. With their big-name actors and top-notch writers, the BBC’s original dramas are a pleasure to listen to. Each one is under an hour long and will provoke your thoughts, warm your heart and make you see today’s world in a different light.

But, despite the huge range on offer on BBC Sounds, not all programmes are available to listen to all of the time, so you need to have your wits about you with regard to what is.

Here, we pick out six of the best BBC dramas to listen to now (and all of them are available for over a year).

Song Of The Reed: Swallowtail

This is the first of Steve Waters’s seasonal dramas following a year in the life of a fictional wetlands nature reserve called Fleggwick. Following the death of its founder, Fleggwick is financial wobbly. Sophie Okonedo stars as the founder’s daughter, who’ll do anything to keep the reserve afloat. Mark Rylance, its warden, is against anything he sees as ‘trendy conservation’. Where does the resolution lie? Recorded on location at a real nature reserve in Norfolk, this is the tale of rapid environmental change everywhere. Download it here.

Jazz And Dice

Jazz and Dice is the first BBC Radio 4 commission for Leanne Allen. The play’s protagonist, Dice, is a wheelchair user, like Allen. But the play is not about disability; it is about love, family and friendship. Dice is having a relationship with her best friend, Jazz, and is left heartbroken when Jazz goes off to university. Luckily, Dice’s mother, Laurie, is a dream and is there to pick up the pieces. Next thing we know, Jazz is preparing to marry a man she met at university – and expects Dice to attend the wedding. But will Jazz make it to the altar? Download it here.

Yellow Lips

This play – beautifully written by Katie Redford, an award-winning writer from Nottingham (who also stars in The Archers) – is as funny as it is painful and as tender as it is true. Now grown up, Jen looks back on her 90s childhood, which was shot through with her mother’s mental-health struggles. As children, Jen and her brother could not make sense of events that now come back to her in sharp relief. Jen’s mum may not look like a lady in a L’Oreal advert – as her friends’ mothers seem to – but she is kind of wonderful in her way. Gripping. Download it here.

Life Is A Radio In The Dark

Everything Toby Jones touches turns to gold. This play – written especially for him by the award-winning American playwright, Will Eno – is no different. Jones’s character embarks on sonic therapy to restore his memory so that he can help solve a crime. The treatment throws up several profound questions. What is a person without a past? Mightn’t it be better to live in the present in any case? Intriguing stuff. Download it here.

South On The Great North Road

This play takes its name from Sting’s 2016 song. Of that tune, the singer says: ‘It’s about my journey from Newcastle in to make my fortune. In my young life I covered enough road miles to recall that relentless gravitational pull, the promise of a different kind of life down that road.’ In Michael Chaplin’s play, 36-year-old Peggy Charlton travels on the same road from Newcastle to London twice a week in her truck, as her father did before her, and the journey threatens to kill her. Download it here.

Going Dark

With a chilling nod to the pandemic’s closure of our theatres, this play – by the Scottish actress and playwright, Marcella Evaristi – looks at the 18-year theatre ban that began in Britain in 1642. The lives of three actors, real-life friends, are devastated by Puritan rule and the execution of their patron, Charles I. You cannot help but rejoice when they return to the stage in the Restoration period as celebrated players. Download it here.

By Becky Ladenburg
July 2021

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Becky Ladenburg

Features Editor

As the GWG's features editor, Becky has her discerning finger on the cultural pulse. She's also our go-to expert on the property market.