When most of us hear words like ‘covalent bonding’ and ‘crystalline structure’, we are immediately transported back to chemistry class at secondary school, and a panicky feeling akin to a deer in headlights. And for young people still taking those classes, a play about these topics can just seem like a sneaky attempt to force them to learn. And yet, if we were introduced to someone, and upon asking their job, they said ‘crystallographer’, most of us would probably say something along the lines of ‘Oh wow, that sounds so cool!’ Science can be cool, as long as it’s not homework!
In exploring the life and times of Kathleen Lonsdale, an Irish-born chemist and crystallographer from the mid-20th century, I have frequently been surprised to find how deeply cool and yet equally uncool she was and is. As well as being a crystallographer who discovered the secret of benzene’s structure, she was also a pacifist, author of Is Peace Possible?, and went to Holloway Prison for her beliefs. Anti-war activism, even at the cost of imprisonment? Definitely cool. Writing a book? Okay, pretty nerdy. But as we leave the easy divisions of school behind, those two things can start to go hand in hand. Greta Thunberg is cool because she’s smart, opinionated, educated and articulate, not because she is dating the popular boy. This is the type of cool that Kathleen Lonsdale was. And yet in popular culture, she is little known, although well-respected in her field in the scientific community.
‘The Lonsdale Project’ is a play about Kathleen Lonsdale, but not just her scientific achievements. It’s also about her pacifist convictions, the fact that she was a working mother, from a less-than-wealthy background. And just as she was a cool if slightly unusual character, we have assembled a young, diverse and exciting team- Sian N Mhuiri is a talented LGBT writer/director whose past work includes Aunty Ben, a play about a child whose uncle is a drag queen; Aine O’Hara is a visual artist/theatre designer who also makes work about living with chronic illness; Hazel Clifford (The Snapper- Gate Theatre), Aoife Spratt (Republic of Telly- RTE) and Graeme Coughlan (The Collector- New Theatre) are our young and talented cast whose past work has ranged from theatre to comedy to film. We think Kathleen would be proud to have a strong, predominantly-female team telling her story.
Lonsdale’s story may be historical, but it still has a lot to say about women’s roles in the present, highlighting how much and in other ways how little has changed. We have computers that fit on the head of a pin, but we still see many women leaving the workplace in order to be able to balance work and family life. Her activism demonstrates a belief in the power we have to change our world which is sorely needed today to tackle social, economic and environmental issues. Although Kathleen Lonsdale was born over 100 years ago, in many ways her challenges are still our struggles today, and the way she overcame them makes her very, very cool indeed.
‘The Lonsdale Project’ by Super Paua
Written/directed by Sian Ni Mhuiri, starring Hazel Clifford, Graeme Coughlan and Aoife Spratt
Smock Alley Theatre, 19-28 March 7.30pm and 2.30pm Saturday matinees
BOOK ONLINE HERE or call 01 677 0014
Tickets €12, €10 concessions