Belfast art set to collide with quantum physics
The parallel universes of quantum physics and theatre are about
to collide as scientists on the French-Swiss border attempt once
more to recreate the Big Bang.
With uncanny timing, an Irish play about the experiment at the
Cern laboratory which is designed to explain the universe’s
origins will be staged while the real life drama of unlocking
the cosmos’ mysteries takes place 300ft under the earth on the
outskirts of Geneva.
The Gentlemen’s Tea Drinking Society throws four men together in
a single room, one of whom is a genius scientist with a secret
to reveal - he has discovered the Higgs boson or the so-called
One of the main purposes of the largest scientific experiment
ever conducted is to find that elusive particle which physicists
believe pervades all space and unites all other particles. They
will try this at the Cern lab using the Large Hadron Collider
which took 30 years to build, cost more than $10 billion and
runs underground for 27 kilometres.
The play is the brainchild of Richard Dormer who shot to fame in
Ireland, Britain and the United States a couple of years ago for
his one-man portrayal of the triumphs and trials of Ulster
snooker legend Alex “Hurricane” Higgins.
In a dank room adjacent to St Patrick’s Catholic Church in
Belfast’s Donegall Street, Dormer explained that his interest in
the hunt for Higgs boson was inspired by a Belfast wall mural.
“I used to cycle past a gable wall end at a pathway near the
Lagan river and there was this new mural that caught my
attention. It said, ‘How can quantum gravity explain the origins
of the universe?’ It really got my mind going about the subject
as I have always loved science and science fiction.”
The Cern scientists initial failure to trigger a Big Bang last
September has turned out to be fortuitous for Dormer. A second
attempt is scheduled for early spring, when the play goes on
“We don’t know what they (the scientists) will find, but this
play has taken reality and is just running with it and asking
what if. Hopefully, this is art running in parallel with
reality,” Dormer said.
Asked about the lack of technological props and backdrops, the
play’s director Rachel O’Riordan said the production was a drama
about science, not about putting scientific experiments on the
“The last thing you want to do is put something so complicated
on stage that it alienates an audience. Most people have an
awareness about Cern. You are talking to someone who failed
their maths GCSE. All this stuff about the universe makes Newton
The experiment triggered worldwide fears that the Large Hadron
Collider would cause a black hole and swallow up the world.
O’Riordan added that audiences needn’t fear that the play will
create a tear in space or time.
Belfast born DJ David Holmes, who produced the music for Ocean’s
Twelve and Hunger, has written the play’s soundtrack.
Given that his most famous character before now was a chain
smoking, hard drinking, cocaine snorting snooker player, how
does Dormer switch to playing a wheelchair-bound scientist who
has cracked a key secret of the cosmos? “Actually, they are very
similar, as Alex was a scientist in his own right,” says Dormer.
“He knew what geometry was. He thought about the positioning of
objects in space. His character was also a genius.”
The Gentlemen’s Tea-Drinking Society holds its premiere on 4
February at the Old Museum until 14th and then goes on tour in
Ireland until 10 March. It then opens at the Tron Theatre in
Glasgow before moving to London.