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Top podcasts that bring the theatre to an online audience

What could podcasts' continued growth mean for younger theatregoers?

The Royal Court Theatre
© Ungry Young Man (flickr, CC BY 2.0)

"But what to call it? Audioblogging? Podcasting?"

– Ben Hammersley, The Guardian, 12th February 2004

Fifteen years since the phrase was first coined, popularity and interest in podcasts shows no sign of abating. It would be challenging to name a topic or subject that isn't covered by at least one podcast: news, sport, arts, fiction… the list is endless. Digestible on the commute to work or designed for listening at home, podcasts are a unique offering of entertainment and information readily available at the click of a smartphone's download button.

They present jumping-off points for new avenues of exploration – the list of albums or artists I scribble down while listening to Romesh Ranganathan's Hip Hop Saved My Life has become too large to ever work through. Some of his guests even have shows of their own. The podcast universe feels like an infinite web of connected topics with my interests, and my ears, at the centre.

Statistics from Ofcom in 2018 suggest that while the number of people listening to weekly podcasts has increased across the board (doubling in the past five years), it is among young adults where growth is steepest. 15 to 24 year-olds in particular use podcasts to, if not replace, then at least complement traditional radio formats. As a medium, podcasts have huge potential to enthuse younger audiences about theatre and drama, so with that in mind here are some of the most interesting shows to get readers started:

Generation veX

Vanessa Fisher, Stephenson Ardern-Sodje and Sharon Rose
© Left and right: Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage, centre: Emma Bullivant

The most recently-launched podcast of this list, Generation veX is hosted by three West End stars; Stephenson Ardern-Sodje (Hamilton), Vanessa Fisher (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat) and Sharon Rose (Hamilton). Having just posted their eighth episode, the podcast explores race, culture and identity through, in their own words, "some seriously good books".

Honest Actors

Adrian Lester
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

Humorous, informative, inspiring – these are just some of the compliments that have been paid to Honest Actors. Into its third season, the podcast gives an insight into the reality of being a professional actor and has been able to secure conversations with some of Britain's heavyweights – an episode with Adrian Lester is a perfect example. The podcast has recently broadcast a series called "Talking Taboos", a series of five true story monologues of trauma and recovery.

Have You Heard George's Podcast?

Having cleaned up at this year's British Podcast Awards, it would have been a crime not to mention George Mpanga's (aka George the Poet) inspiring series that was released earlier this year. Merging drama, news, poetry and music, the podcast resists labelling itself, but one certainty is that its content will make an impact in the theatre community and beyond.

Bechdel Theatre Podcast

Bechdel Theatre

Inspired directly by the Bechdel test, hosts Beth Watson and Pippa Sa release a monthly podcast debating representation and gender on stage. Spliced with interviews, reviews and a new guest every episode, this is a must for those concerned with diversification in theatre. Their latest episode – the final in 2019 – features playwright Matilda Ibini, whose show Little Miss Burden recently played as part of the Bunker Theatre's final winter season in their current Southwark venue.

Royal Court's Playwright's Podcast

Simon Stephens
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

The Royal Court's Associate playwright, Simon Stephens presents a series of hour-long muses with various playwrights. Genial conversation revolves around their lives, inspirations and work. Series four is currently running, with episodes scheduled for release on Fridays at 11am. Playwrights in this season have included Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti (whose play A Kind of People closes this week), Christopher Hampton, Stef Smith and David Ireland.

Oxford Union

Kwame Kwei-Armah
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

Although not strictly a podcast, over the years the Oxford Union has welcomed an array of acclaimed directors, actors and producers to speak in front of their students. From Kwame Kwei-Armah and Zoë Wanamaker earlier in 2019 to Vanessa Redgrave through the years, there is a raft of fantastic material available on their Youtube channel.

Honourable mentions:

Blank – delving into those moments when we go blank, whether it's writer's block, forgetting lines, losing an audience or not being on form. Recent episodes have included Ben Miller and Rufus Sewell.

Stance – Chrystal Genesis' award-winning arts and culture podcast, with guests including playwrights Inua Ellams, Natasha Gordon & Sabrina Mahfouz.

Hamilcast – an in-depth analysis of Hamilton as well as the historical period that it is based on, with over 200 episodes to choose from.

Off Book – a podcast by the Young Vic that coincides with its current artistic programming. The latest episode sees director Dadiow Lin talking about Lauren Yee's in a word, the play she chose to direct as part of the Genesis Future Directors Award.