It’s the 21st Century and yet women are still underpaid and undervalued. We have come some way to becoming equal with men, but we’re not quite there. However, if we go back in time to the decade after World War II, women were struggling to succeed in jobs traditionally seen as male only. Like science for example.
Rosalind Franklin was one woman who from childhood was fascinated by shapes and structure. Perhaps surprisingly, she didn’t choose to become an architect, but a biophysicist and her work led to the discovery of the DNA double helix. Her life is extremely interesting, and Anna Ziegler is right to bring it to a wider audience and share her contributions to science.
Photograph 51 is structured like The Railway Children, with people talking and interrupting each other using both the first and third person. However, unlike the childish bickering that works in that story, in Photograph 51 it just feels disorganised, which is odd considering it’s a scientific play.
The stage design is incredible, with arches and stonework clearly emulating war torn Kings College and the lab beneath its quad. Symbolic of Rosalind’s own fascination with shapes, Christopher Oram’s beautiful set is to be applauded.
Nicole Kidman is a very natural actor and while she is mesmerising on stage, she does seem a little out of her comfort zone at times. However, she is entirely believable as Rosalind Franklin, her voice hypnotic and her emotions clear at all times; there is no doubt that she is immersed in her character.
In fact all of the actors are strong, particularly Stephen Campbell Moore (Maurice Wilkins) and Joshua Silver (Ray Gosling) and there is humour to be found at times, particularly through their expressions and voice tone.
Ziegler’s script also offers a few sniggers and although they do feel a little forced in places, these moments provide some light relief in what is a very serious piece.
Ultimately however, this short play (running just 90 minutes without interval) is a little bit dull and struggles to be anywhere near as significant as Franklin’s actual discoveries; it is also unlikely to appeal to anyone who does not have a keen interest in science.
Reviewed by Michaela Clement-Hayes
Photo: Johan Persson
Photograph 51 is playing at the Noel Coward Theatre until 18 November. Click here for tickets