Cumbria’s Atomic Story 2019


Artforms: Theatre and Visual Art

Funded by: National Lottery Heritage Fund

Project Partner: The Beacon Museum

Artists: Ali McCaw, Vicki Maxfield, Rebecca Hamilton

Participants: Studio Theatre West, Year 3/4/5/6 Seascale School, Year 4/5 students from Distington School

Date: April 2017 – July 2019

Cumbria’s Atomic Story is an exploration of Cumbria’s Nuclear heritage, with a particular focus on the life of scientist John Dalton. 

Studio Theatre members, together with pupils of Distington and Seascale Primary Schools researched the dramatic changes that took place as a result of the Nuclear Industry.DSCF5061

Research has included talks from and visits to the Beacon Museum, Sellafield Ltd., National Nuclear Laboratory, Manchester Museum of Science and Industry and Whitehaven Archives. We are very grateful to these organisations who we are very thankful to these organisations for contributing their time and resources to this project.

Performance: ATOM: A Tale of Matter

“Travel across the centuries to meet John Dalton, scientist, Quaker and grandfather of atomic theory. Aided by a flock of birds, he puts his case for his work against the backdrop of the building of Sellafield.”

Studio Theatre West and Distington Primary School worked together to create the story for the production. They used drawing to develop their ideas through which the theme of birds evolved, each bird representing an aspect of John Dalton’s life.

The production was performed by Studio Theatre West Coast at the Beacon Museum throughout March including a VIP performance for local business leaders and Local Authority Workers.  Performances were also held at Rosehill Theatre and Mayfield SEN School.

ATOM: A Tale of Matter begins with Dalton’s death, he arrives in a surreal place where the birds gather and reflect on his life and achievements, culminating in the building of Sellafield. John Dalton’s doubts and fears grow through the production and come to a climax at the realisation of his science being used to create the atomic bomb. The production explores whether we can control what the future will do with our ideas and raises the question: “what if?”

Featured in the production was stop motion animations that were created by members of Studio Theatre West who worked with Haltwistle Film Project.

The music in the production was created by musician Mark Newport with two Studio Theatre West members. The three of them play live during the show, one of which performs using a theremin which has been specially designed for him to be able to perform with.

The stunning bird puppets were created by second year costume students from Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, who worked to designs by members of Studio Theatre West and students from Distington Primary School.

ATOM: A Tale of Matter – Full Film


Exhibition at The Beacon Museum

12 January – 20 March

The exhibition also showcased the research, story development and animations that all contributed towards the production ATOM: A Tale of Matter.
It showcased the research drawings, animations and designs of the puppets for the live show.

Background Information:

Cumbria’s Atomic Story starts with John Dalton, the son of a Quaker weaver, born in Eaglesfield near Cockermouth in 1766. Dalton went on to become one of the most eminent scientists of his day and his investigations into atomic theory start Cumbria’s association with the Nuclear Industry. Nearly 200 years later the Nuclear Industry transformed the Victorian holiday resort of Seascale into a modern 20th century town, to meet the needs of the Royal Ordnance Factories at Sellafield and Drigg in 1939. Later in the 1950’s Seascale housed the workers of the world’s first commercial nuclear power station, Calder Hall. People came to the area attracted by the new jobs and the local workforce adjusted to the new opportunities presented by the industry.

Research Visits

Atomic Day at the Beacon

Members of Prism Arts Studio Theatre West, together with over 80 children from Distington Community and Seascale Primary Schools spent the day at the Beacon Museum, Whitehaven. The day focused on Cumbria and its role in developing science and new technologies with particular reference to the nuclear industry.




Walking the John Dalton Way

Studio Theatre West and pupils from Distington Community and Seascale Primary Schools walked a section of the John Dalton Way.  They were guided by community engagement staff from  Sellafield and view the facility along the route.












History Days at the Beacon

Studio Theatre West Coast and Year’s 4 and 5 From Distington Community School had a really interesting day at the The Beacon Museum, Whitehaven. Exploring the history of Sellafield.



 Visit to Manchester Science Museum

Studio Theatre Members and pupils from Distington Community School learn about John Dalton’s Scientific achievements and investigate the Museum’s displays.
















Project Interviews

Project participants carried out interviews with past and present Sellafield workers and past Pupils from Seascale Primary School.  The photograph below was given to the project during the interview process and shows a farmer and his wife watching Sellafield being built from their living room window.



Seascale Animation

With the help of Haltwhistle Film Project, pupils from Seascale School made this animation about their school. They interviewed past pupils to the school and researched the schools links with Sellafield to inspire their animations.


Want to get involved?

If you are interested in working with us on a project like this please get in touch with us, visit our contacts page.
If want more information about joining Studio Theatre West please click here.

This project was made possible thanks to funding from The National Lottery Heritage Fund.


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