Celebrating a little-known Irish innovator in exciting new production

by Padraig Conlon

A new play coming to Dublin next week aims to shed light on the life and legacy of a truly exceptional Irish woman.

Despite being a pioneering organic chemical compound scientist who proved the benzene ring is flat, Kathleen Lonsdale (1903-1971) remains largely unknown by the Irish public.

The Lonsdale Project, written and directed by Sian Ni Mhuiri, is a new theatre show for young people from the ages of 11 years plus that aims to change all that.

The play connects science with real events and spotlights the fascinating story of Lonsdale, who was a prominent chemist, crystallographer, anti-war campaigner, writer, mother, and former inmate of Holloway Prison.

This co-production with Riverbank Arts Centre and theatre production company, Super Paua, will celebrate her life, her writings, and her adventures in areas such as x-ray diffraction, crystallography and passivism.

Following the play’s recent world premiere at Riverbank Arts Centre, Newbridge (the town where Lonsdale was born in 1903), it transfers to Smock Alley Theatre to run from Thursday, March 19 to Saturday, March 28.

Actors

The play features three of Ireland’s top young rising actors – Clondalkin native, Hazel Clifford, who recently featured in The Gate Theatre’s hit adaptation of Roddy Doyle’s The Snapper; her fellow Dubliner, Graeme Coughlan, who appeared in The Collector; and Aoife Spratt, who has worked on RTE’s Republic of Telly, and recently in Dave Minogue’s feature film, Poster Boys.

Dublin Gazette caught up with Hazel ahead of next week’s opening night in Smock Alley.

Hazel Clifford

She said: “I’m so excited to be involved with this play as I’ve never done anything like this before.

“I’ve never done children’s theatre so it’s going to be a wonderful new experience to be engaging with young children.

“I really hope they like this play – the story of Kathleen Lonsdale is so important; she was such a fantastic, amazing woman who was way ahead of her time.

“Like so many Irish people, I’d never heard about her before I did this play.

“She believed in the power we have to change the world – something which is really needed today.

“The story of her life is truly inspiring.

“A big theme of the play is her pacifism which came about because she lived during wartime.

“Because she was a Quaker, Kathleen conscientiously objected to registering for civil defence service during World War II.

“She was fined £2 for her objection and then refused to pay the fine on principle which led to her spending a month in Holloway Prison!

“I hadn’t worked with Sian (Ní Mhuirí) before so it’s been amazing to do this play with her.

“She is fantastic, how she facilitates so many different people is remarkable.

“It’s been absolutely wonderful also to work with Aoife (Spratt) and Graham (Coughlan) and I’m excited because it’s in a very good place ahead of our opening night in Newbridge, which is where Kathleen Lonsdale was born in 1903.

“We have this intensity thing between all of us with regard to telling this story because children, and adults as well, who love science may feel marginalised from theatre.

“So this is a great chance for them to engage in theatre about the history of something they feel passionately about.”

Clondalkin native Hazel has been acting since she was 8 eight years old.

“My parents were very encouraging, I was a very active kid but I was no good at sports!

“I had tried ballet and Irish dancing but I wasn’t any good at them and just took the p*ss!

“So I started acting classes with Clondalkin Drama Group and really enjoyed it.

“After that I joined Dublin Youth Theatre before going to acting college at The Lir Academy for a four year course after finishing school.

“It was while I was still in Lir that I got my big break.

“In my third year there I got to play Sharon in Roddy Doyle’s The Snapper in The Gate which as you can imagine was the most exciting thing to happen to me career wise.

“I’m only two years out of college and at the moment things are going great but a major dream of mine would be to eventually move to London for work.”

The Lonsdale Project:

Riverbank Arts Centre: Newbridge: 14th March 2020

Smock Alley Theatre: 19th – 28th March, 2020smockalley.com

Further Info: superpaua.org 

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