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International acclaim for tobacco-themed drama inspired by Bristol research

An audio-drama, inspired by research from the University of Bristol and Durham University, is currently the UK’s top podcast and ranked second in the Audio Fiction World Cup.  

An audio-drama, inspired by research from the University of Bristol and Durham University, is currently ranked second in the Audio Fiction World Cup and is their top UK podcast.

The four-part drama, ‘Tobias and Syd’, is comprised of a collection of time-travel episodes and tells the story of Tobias and Syd’s first meeting, seduction, exploitation and how their relationship spirals.  

The series, written and directed by multi-award nominated Elspeth Penny, has won various other accolades such as Winner for Best Audio Fiction Standalone at the Sydney Webfest 2023.  

Tobias and Syd promotional poster / 2BU Productions

Launched earlier this year, the series was primarily inspired by a lecture by Professor Andrew Russell on the Anthropology of Tobacco, held at the Tobacco Factor in Bristol a few years ago.  

It was made by the Bristol-based, award-winning 2BU Productions, a theatre company that empowers local marginalised groups with lived experience of lasting health conditions.    

It includes real-life accounts from ‘Letters to My Breath’, conducted by Elspeth Penny and Dr. Alice Malpass, from the University of Bristol’s Centre for Academic Primary Care. The study is part of a wider project; ‘Life of Breath’, led by the Durham University Professor Jane McNaughton and Professor Havi Carel from the University of Bristol.  

The emotive letters used in ‘Tobias and Syd’ were written by patients with respiratory conditions.  

Currently available on the streaming platforms Spotify and Podbean, the audio-drama is composed of original research from both universities and captivating character dynamics.   

Elspeth Penny said: 'I am so proud of everyone who has contributed to Tobias and Syd - from our young advisory group to our creative team, to our academic collaborators, and most especially our international audience. 

'All together we have created and grown a unique and beautiful play, which helps take down the smoke screen around commercial tobacco use. 

'We are looking at some exciting and yet unexplored original sources in Bristol to reveal themes for new creative content, including a new play. This will involve collaborations with several departments at the Universities of Bristol and Oxford, and internationally, with input from a group of diverse creatives.” 

Dr Alice Malpass said: 'I believe podcast audio-drama has the potential to open new perspectives on contentious public health issues like tobacco. 

'The success of Tobias and Syd points to the importance of the podcast audio-drama as a vehicle for enabling ideas contained in academic texts to be presented in creative, inclusive, enjoyable, and collaborative ways.'

The full play is available to watch for free on the Tobias and Syd website. 

Featured image: 2BU Productions

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