by Anna Ziegler.
Noel Coward Theatre St Martin’s Lane WC2H 9LX To 21 November 2015.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs: 1hr 35min No interval.
TICKETS: 0844 482 5141(no booking fee).
(Limited number of tickets at £10 each available 10.30am for most performances, in person from the Box Office (maximum 2 per person).
Review: Carole Woddis 15 September.
From theatrical Viagra to dramatic DNA.
For too long, Rosalind Franklin has been the forgotten `dark lady of DNA’, written out of history by those craftier, keener eggheads, Francis Crick and James Watson. Anna Ziegler’s new play restores Franklin to the limelight with a bio-pic drama that nicely balances the toughness and impenetrability of her personality with the sexism and prejudice of the scientific world of research which then as now, surrounded her. Women and science are still, it seems, seen as barely compatible.
Ziegler’s play has been a long time in gestation in the US. Finally arriving in the UK it makes a solid, engrossing addition to the West End. It also launches Michael Grandage’s new season with a fanfare, with the return of Nicole Kidman whose previous appearance in London prompted one critic to call her performance theatrical Viagra.
Ironic then that the play in which she returns focuses quite specifically on sexism, in the nicest possible way. Ziegler’s Photograph 51 – the x-ray photo taken by Franklin that provided proof of DNA’s double helix – tells the story behind the Nobel prize-winning discovery.
Neatly communicating the tension of Franklin’s relationships with fellow scientists at King’s College, London where she held a Fellowship, Ziegler interweaves it with a thoughtful philosophical meditation on the nature of beauty, fate, regret, life choices and ways of seeing.
Yet Photograph 51 doesn’t quite catch the brio and verve of Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen to which it bears many similarities, not least its narrating structure and intertwining personal and scientific lives.
Grandage’s production too takes no great risks. But Ziegler’s sensitivities are lucidly staged and the production boasts a terrific set, by Christopher Oram, of post-war King’s College with dark, exposed subterranean arches.
Above all there is Kidman, almost unrecognisable, sporting short brown hair, a perfect English accent and exuding the grumpiness of the single-minded blue-stocking. She thoroughly puts to flight the disappointment that usually accompanies film star appearances on stage.
Beside her Stephen Campbell Moore as her exasperated work associate, Maurice Wilkins, Will Attenborough as the ruthlessly ambitious Watson and Edward Bennett’s more laconic Francis Crick, provide fine, substantially contrasting portraits.
Rosalind Franklin: Nicole Kidman.
Maurice Wilkins: Stephen Campbell Moore.
James Watson: Will Attenborough.
Francis Crick: Edward Bennett.
Don Caspar: Patrick Kennedy.
Ray Gosling: Joshua Silver.
Director: Michael Grandage.
Designer/Costume: Christopher Oram.
Lighting: Neil Austin.
Sound/Composer: Adam Cork.
Dialect coach: Sandra Frieze.
Voice coach: Zabarjad Salam.
Wigs/Hair: Christine Blundell.
Associate director: John Haidar.
UK premiere of Photograph 51 produced by MGC at Noel Coward Theatre 5 September 2015.
New York premiere 27 October 2010 at the Ensemble Studio Theatre.
Originally commissioned and produced by Active Cultures, the Vernacular Theatre of Maryland, USA, 10 February 2008