Inspired by 2RPH

Wed, 27 June 2018

Air web

On Friday, June 8, the Announcer and Reader of The Sydney Morning Herald/The Daily Telegraph shift, which goes to air from 8:45am to 11am, were surprised to come across an article mentioning 2RPH!

The article referred to a new play that was to premiere in Sydney and which had drawn inspiration from 2RPH’s reading of the death notices in The Sydney Morning Herald’s obituaries column. The play explores death, grief, holding on and letting go.

The official synopsis is: Annabel sits in a dark radio studio, hosting the graveyard shift. Having severed all relationships with her family after the death of her father, she spends her nights reading the death notices to a silent unseen audience. One morning while on air, the station phone rings. When Annabel answers, she unwittingly unleashes the grief and secrets of an entire community, desperate to connect with the past.

2RPH interviewed producer and playwright Joanna Erskine about the genesis of the play, its lead actor (Eloise Snape), and the play’s take-home message.

The genesis of the play is very compelling. What drew you to the small notice in the SMH of the reading of the death notices?

I was part of a 24-hour playwriting challenge where I was given the Sydney Morning Herald for inspiration. I found myself in the obituaries, poring over the death notices searching for a spark of an idea. That’s when I found the information about 2RPH. It was fascinating to me.

I understood the reading of news, of articles, of books for the print handicapped. But why death notices? Who would be listening? Did people listen regularly? Were they expecting to hear about someone they knew? And what was it like to be the Announcer reading these notices daily? That’s where the idea for Annabel’s character came from, and how in her own grief, she is connected to the grief of an entire community, listening to this programme.

I am not sure if I am correct, but were you a volunteer at 2RPH? And if so, what motivated your interest in the radio reading service?

The lead actor Eloise Snape, who plays the central character of Annabel, was a volunteer reader for 2RPH, reading women’s magazines. She has also been a presenter for 2SER and FBI (where she actually presented the ‘graveyard shift’). So it has been wonderful to have her insights and experience in the development of the play.

What do you think is radio’s power in today’s world given other ways to gain information, such as the internet, etc?

In relation to the bombardment and saturation of communication available to us these days, I think radio provides a more personal, intimate experience. There is a line of communication, even if one-way as with 2RPH, and a connection between the announcer and listener. 

Radio is often used for companionship, a friendly voice that we can invite into our own home or listen to wherever we find ourselves. It is of another world, another time, and yet we still need it. I remember Eloise Snape saying during rehearsals, that instead of addressing listeners as “you all”, she was taught to say “you.” Even if the broadcast reaches thousands of people, it feels like it is crafted for, meant for, you.

What can people expect from the play?

People can expect a black comedy, certainly a moving yet very funny experience. I think the play will touch audience members in very different ways depending on their own experiences of grief – whether it is deep-seated or still fresh. The play is very much in the style of magic realism – extraordinary things happening to ordinary people. So, expect a bit of magic and fun, amongst the darkness.

What message do you hope people walk away with after seeing the play?

That you are not alone in your grief, because all of us carry it somehow, somewhere with us every day. Grief is such a personal and often isolating experience, that we deal with privately. It manifests in all of us in different ways. But it is one of the connecting human experiences. We will all grieve at some point, and truly I think, our grief becomes part of us. Rather than try to bury it, I hope that the play encourages people to open up about their own grief, and invite others in.

Air is showing at the Old 505 Theatre in Newtown until Saturday, June 30. For information and tickets, visit: