Tobias and Syd

Why is tobacco still so appealing and popular around the world?

Tobacco has a hold over so much of the world, why? To explore this question, 2BU Productions are proud to be making an audio drama podcast, called Tobias and Syd, plus a series of webinars about Tobacco, for in depth discussion.

About the play

Tapping into desire itself,  this romance of smoke and time travel is a 3 part audio-production in the making, which explores the alluring and devasting effects of the global tobacco usage.

Saikat Ahamed
Saikat Ahamed Actor, Writer and Associate Artist, Bristol Old Vic
Read More
An adventure… I loved it, it was emotional, the language was beautiful, the humour, I liked the subject matter, and the way you approached it… the inner voice, the dreamlike quality, the personification of tobacco, the power and politics… so much there. The relationship between Tobias and Syd was gripping but the most fascinating is what Syd goes through – and the question of who is in control? And how Tobias is flirty, playful and then dominates. We do strange things to justify our behaviour. The lies we tell ourselves. The cognitive dissonance. It is fascinating. For an audio piece, done on zoom, it was done brilliantly, it held my attention. (On the first draft play reading)
Evie (15)
Evie (15)Advisory Team
Read More
I think the message and storyline is great and the actors were really engaging.
Professor Justine Schneider
Professor Justine SchneiderAudience
Read More
The play is impressive; erudite, entertaining and profound.
Kirsty Cox
Kirsty CoxPerformer and improviser in the early stages
Read More
I have been thinking about the script a lot over the past hours which is always a good sign - I think I was mulling over it in my sleep! - and it really does tackle so much in such an interesting and thought provoking way. And I think it is brilliant that it is non-judgmental as it provides new and different perspectives and arguments and then allows people to form their own opinions which is so important rather than being hit over the head with the right thing to do! And to get such an overview of the history of tobacco is really interesting. As other people commented, I really enjoyed the weaving in of the poetic sections but also the developing relationship between Toby and Syd and the chance to hear the thoughts in Syd's head as voiceover - I think that idea will be really strong in the podcast when in editing and postproduction you can have a much clearer distinction between Syd's 'voices' and can at times even play with slightly overlapping the voiceover with the actual voices of Syd and Toby.

Our first open online event

So happy with how our Tobias and Syd draft play reading and discussions went: some lovely reactions: “Congrats on a large and stimulating meeting.” Professor Justine Schneider.

Thanks so much to our performers at the reading, puppeteer Chris Pirie, Kirsty Cox and Annette Chown.

Working together on this, our team, a co-production with our audience

How we work at 2BU Productions, makes a big difference to the end piece of work. We invite comments from audience, teen advisors and co-producers from the very beginning. It might be uncomfortable at times for members of the creative team to feel a bit exposed so early in the process, but it’s important for us to make sure we have a lot of different view points feeding into the work from the very beginning.

Can you resist this...?

Tobias and Syd is Inspired by...

Anthropology of Tobacco, Andrew Russell’s excellent book.

Tobias and Syd - beginnings

‘Tobias and Syd’ is a play written by Elspeth Penny based on ideas and research contained in Professor Andrew Russell’s book Anthropology of Tobacco (Routledge, 2019).  Elspeth invited Andrew to give a talk at The Tobacco Factory in 2020, as part of Life of Breath’s End exhibition, Catch Your Breath. 

Tobias and Syd gets voted in

Elspeth secured Arts Council England funding for a project in which three plays were authored for possible selection for further development as a podcast. Over just over two days, the plays were explored in improvisations, with actors Chris Pirie and Kirsty Cox. We also had visits from composer Matt Sheeran, artist Vanessa Moody and clinican Barny Hole.

At a workshop at ‘The Puppet Place’, Bristol, on 15th February 2022 the three plays were given a ‘scratch’ performance by three actors.

“That was really good, very entertaining, it was an impossible task mind, wasn’t it, they’ve all got something” Paul Appleby, ex BBC Wildlife.

Tobias and Syd, however, was voted #1 for podcast development by the audience. ‘You’ve got to make that play’ Dr Barny Hole, our kidney doctor friend generously said, in spite of it meaning that we’d not take ‘Letter to My Kidney’ further just yet, a play based on his research.

What an engaged and informative discussion though – feedback from this event is informing all the three projects.

Andrew and Elspeth then invited Dr Alice Malpass to join the team as an evaluator and we applied for some funding from Durham University ESRA IAA fund, to live record the play (rather than record it online), plus to make accompanying videos and webinars. We got the funding.

What's the story of the play?

Well we can’t say too much at the moment! It’s currently in it’s first draft – but it is hot and smoking! It’s a love story and a story of devastation.

The play may also contain extracts from ‘Letters to My Breath’, research conducted by Alice and Elspeth on the interdisciplinary, Wellcome-funded ‘Life of Breath’ project within which Andrew Russell also collaborated (a joint Senior Investigator Award led by Prof Jane Macnaughton – Durham and Prof Havi Carel – Bristol). 

Who is involved?

We’re super lucky to have excellent advisory links and connections. This includes –

Creative Team

Sara Davies, Dramaturgical/Executive Producer and former BBC Producer

Iain Hunter, Sound Producer and Editor on ’The Archers’

Elspeth Penny, Writer and Director

Miles Chambers, once Poet Laureate of Bristol, will be creating some additional material for us

Maria Herreros (, artist, Illustrator and graphic novelist), is making an original image for us
Advisory and webinars
Professor Andrew Russell
Dr Alice Malpass

Co-producers. We have a growing team of advisors/co-producers on the project, and can’t wait to tell you about them.

Additional thank yous for all the wider help, support, David Richmond, Deasy Bamford, Andrea Hernandez, The Island, The Puppet Place, Theatre Orchard, Heather Wright, 2BU’s non executive advisory board,  Fiona Matthews, Paul Appleby, Barny Hole, Justine Schneider.; Innovate Edge Uk, Lois Barton.

Want to be involved? Let us know, email Elspeth or Lois at

What next for Tobias and Syd?

We’re in the planning stage. There will be a combination of studio-based and location recordings. We’re still building collaborations.

Tobias and Syd is funded by Arts Council England and Durham ESRA IAA fund and is being made by 2BU Productions

Follow the project using this QR code:

Early stage play reading

First Advisory Meeting

A trip to Canada for an award ceremony

2BU’s play Silva Lining’s Care Plan, recorded in lockdown, was nomiinated for a Rockie Award. Whilst in Banff, Canada at the World Media Conference,   Elspeth went to an excellent Indigenous summit, and was happy to meet a few First Nation and Indigenous people, who shared their unique perspective on tobacco use.