Guinea Pigs, a new play that shines a light on Britain’s decades-long nuclear testing cover-up, written by the daughter of a test veteran, premieres next month at London’s The Space, coinciding with the 70th anniversary of Operation Hurricane, Britain’s first nuclear detonation. Time to get booking!
Ahead of a planned national tour in 2023, Guinea Pigs has its world premiere in a strictly limited season at The Space in east London from 4 to 8 October 2022, 70 years after the country’s first-ever nuclear detonation on 3 October 1952.
He made a nuclear bomb,
she’s Ban The Bomb.
There will be an explosion…
It’s the 1980s. Coral O’Malley is discovering feminism, pacifism and Duran Duran. She’s a chip off the old block of her beloved dad, Gerry. Only he’s fighting a battle of his own with the British government over that time they dropped a nuclear bomb on him. And then there’s the small matter of the school public speaking competition…
Drawing unmistakable parallels between the 1980s and today, Guinea Pigs is a semi-autobiographical comedy/drama written by actor and writer Elin Doyle, whose father witnessed a hydrogen bomb test in 1957. It is the first play to investigate the moral injury suffered by a generation of young men who were exposed to radiation at the British nuclear weapons tests of the 1950s and ’60s. The play also highlights its impact on their families who are still seeking justice for the physical and mental effects that continue to this day.
Many of the men involved in Britain’s live nuclear testing programme were teenagers on National Service, afterwards suffering devastating health conditions that later affected their children and grandchildren.
The UK government is now the only former nuclear superpower of the Cold War era that still denies any link to nuclear radiation exposure during its weapons testing programme. Long-listed for the Finborough Theatre/ETPEP award in 2021, Guinea Pigs is a heart-warming coming-of-age story and a joyous call to action. A tale of intergenerational love and conflict, a celebration of the power of women and an important reminder that each and every one of us has a voice.
Guinea Pigs‘ author Elin Doyle, who also appears in the three-hander, commented:
“We have already been contacted via social media by a number of nuclear descendants whose stories are individually heart-breaking. Their response to the play has been overwhelmingly positive, especially in knowing their story will be told to a wider theatre audience. This is what I want above all – for the nuclear test veteran community to feel seen and for the wider public to know our story – it’s dreadful that people still don’t know this happened, but like all the other dubious aspects of British history, it’s been brushed under the carpet.
“Successive governments have used the nuclear test veterans as a political football, denying them the apology and support their families need and deserve. The 1980s seemed a good setting for the comedy value but also for the socio-economic and political parallels that can be drawn between then and now. It’s also when the test veterans’ campaign started.”
The premiere production of Guinea Pigs stars Elin Doyle, Jonny Emmett and Caron Kehoe. It’s directed by Laura Kirman and produced by Zoe Browne.
About Britain’s nuclear test veterans
Around 22,000 young British men were sent to work on Britain’s live nuclear detonations in the 1950s and ‘60s. By the early 1980s, they were beginning to mobilise in the collective realisation of the physical harm caused to them and their descendants from exposure to nuclear radiation.
Eventually, the story broke in the British press and in 1983, the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association (BNTVA) was created by Ken KcGinley, a very ordinary and at the same time quite extraordinary, man from Johnstone, Scotland. A courageous David and Goliath campaign for justice began that endures to this day.
The British government remains the only former nuclear superpower, including Russia, to continue to deny any link between their nuclear weapons testing programme and adverse health conditions experienced by test veterans and their descendants, who continue to live with both the mental and physical consequences of the tests.
There are now estimated to be only 3000-4000 nuclear test veterans alive today in 2022 and their families still live with the consequences of the tests. Had they had an apology 40 years ago when the campaign began, thousands of men, like Elin’s dad, would have still been alive to hear it.
Their families continue the fight on their behalf and remain convinced their husbands, fathers and even themselves, were used as nothing better than human guinea pigs by their own government, a claim only supported by uncovered documents from the time that state, the Army must discover the detailed effects of various types of explosions on equipment, stores and men with and without various types of protection – MOD memo marked Top Secret, 20th May, 1953.
In June 2022, Boris Johnson became the first British Prime Minister to meet with nuclear test veterans. He promised to investigate the scandal.
⚡️New Episode of Space Chats is out!!⚡️
Adam Hemming chats to Elin Doyle @elindoyle, writer of the upcoming show GUINEA PIGS . They discuss silenced history of nuclear testing in Britain, moral injury and why we need a laugh when we’re hurting.
👂 Anchor, Spotify & Apple Podcasts pic.twitter.com/morbsZTLJM
— The Space (@SpaceArtsCentre) September 23, 2022
Elin Doyle – Originally from the East Midlands, Elin’s a new old voice; she’s been a teenage mum, a foreign currency dealer and scrubbed Turkish-style loos in a factory in the south of France. Anything to put food on the table.
She embarked on a BA Hons Acting degree at Rose Bruford College of Theatre & Performance the same year her son started Uni. An actor first and foremost, Elin has played Valerie in The Weir, Isabella Bird in Top Girls and appeared in Simon Stephens’ Pornography. A fluent French-speaker, she has toured The Elephant Man in Europe and performed in an original French version of Molière’s classic comedy Les Fourberies de Scapin. Guinea Pigs is her first full-length play.