Jane Messer’s new play brings out everything we love about Chekhov and radio

17 August 2015

Exploring the concepts of histories and lives, Dr Jane Messer’s new radio-play Dear Dr Chekhov is further testimony to Australian audiences’ unwavering love of Anton Chekhov, his life, work and legacy.

Dr Messer, a Senior Lecturer in English at Macquarie University, is a lifelong Chekhov obsessive, explaining, “He was a great writer, lover, kind doctor and good son and brother, a complex warm singular man.”

Dear Dr Chekhov tells the imagined story of Chekhov and Phoebe Phillips’ friendship, and their correspondence. Through the characters’ exchanges, we encounter the history of two islands: Sakhalin and Lady Elliot Island, the southernmost point on the Great Barrier Reef.

The idea for the radio-play began years ago when Dr Messer visited Lady Elliot Island and saw its 1800s lighthouse and the grave of the lighthouse keeper’s daughter Phoebe Phillips.

Dr Messer says, “The idea of her living such an isolated, short life was very powerful for me. The island was tragic – it had been mined for guano by almost-enslaved, indentured miners. Later I learned that Anton Chekhov had spent months on the island of Sakhalin, more or less at the same time as Phoebe had been on her island.”

Dear Dr Chekhov is Dr Messer’s second radio-play and follows her most recent and acclaimed novel Hopscotch. She describes writing for radio as “more experimental .”

She says, “In writing for radio, the text can be far more lyrical and playful because in the final work the listener is immersed in words and language, but also the soundscape. Radio is intimate – like the conversation between Chekhov and Phoebe.”

The radio-play will be aired on ABC Radio National’s Soundproof program on Friday 21 August at 9pm. It is a richly produced ABC radio drama that cherishes not only the traditions of radio and sound scape creation, but also brings the latest technology and today’s best and emerging talent including Ella Scott Lynch, Shai Alexander and Newtown Performing Arts High School’s Freya Irving.

Built from original recordings by the radio-makers, including recording from the field, listeners of Dear Dr Chekhov will experience sound as space and volume, mood and light.

“The radio-play takes us back to the oldest art, the art of listening to story,” adds Dr Messer.

Dear Dr Chekhov is produced and directed by Jane Messer and Jane Ulman for Radio National’s Creative Audio Unit and supported by the Ian Reed Foundation, Macquarie University and Varuna Writer’s House, and has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts.


RN Soundproof, Friday 21 August, 9pm
RN, Sunday 23 August, 8pm
Also available on podcast

Production cast:

Narrator, Ella Scott Lynch
Anton Chekhov, Shai Alexander
Phoebe Jane Phillips, Freya Irving
Atsuo Goto, Kengo Hasuo
Raj Kumar, Gerard Miranda
Ship’s captain, Albert Ellis Greg Refeld
James Phillips, lighthouse keeper, Gary Bryson
Mrs Phillips, lighthouse keeper’s wife, Margaret Irving
First Officer, Fred Angel Adam Beale
Sakhalin Convicts: As Gusev, Dimitry Nikolaev and Anya Esther Krause with Galina Lazareva and Greg Refeld

Filed under: Faculty of Arts Uncategorized