Nicole Kidman Plays The Lost Lady Of DNA

Photograph 51 at Noël Coward Theatre ★★★★☆

By Silvia Baretta Last edited 29 months ago
Nicole Kidman Plays The Lost Lady Of DNA Photograph 51 at Noël Coward Theatre 4
Joshua Silver as Ray Gosling and Nicole Kidman as Rosalind Franklin. Photo credit: Johan Persson.

Nicole Kidman returns to the London stage after her scintillating 1998 debut in David Hare's The Blue Moon where she embodied a series of women in a revolving play about sex. She's now back in a very different, but also hugely challenging role, that of Doctor Rosalind Franklin.

Photograph 51 tells the story of a stern woman sidelined by history who nevertheless played a key role in the discovery of the DNA's double-helix structure. In 1952, while working in an underground lab at King's College, the chemist Franklin — helped by her PhD student assistant Raymond Gosling — took an X-ray photograph which revealed the shape of life's essence. Franklin was just a step away from discovering how the whole structure of DNA worked but her Cambridge collaborators Watson and Crick would get there first — and scoop the Nobel Prize in 1953. Sadly, Franklin never got to enjoy a similar achievement, dying of ovarian cancer that same year, probably caused by long-term exposure to the X-rays she was working with.

This play by Anna Ziegler poses questions about science and sexism, looking at both attitudes then and now. Her ability to bring such a hot topic and intricate history to the stage is remarkable, but it wouldn't work without the personality of its main character.

Nicole Kidman as Rosalind Franklin is aloof, methodical, strict and always right. Or at least she thinks she is. She can defend herself well in a male-dominated environment but at the same time she doesn't let anyone trespass into her comfort zone, which makes it difficult for her colleagues to communicate and collaborate with her. Particularly affected by her cool attitude is Doctor Maurice Wilkins, played by Stephen Campbell Moore, a man both disconcerted and fascinated by Franklin's strong personality.

The atmospheric set, which reproduces the semi-destroyed brick arches of King's College during post-war London, is intriguing, dark and mysterious, making the history told even more compelling. But at only 90 minutes this brief one-act play seems to end before we even realise it.

Photograph 51 is on until 21 November at Noël Coward Theatre, St Martin's Lane, WC2N 4AU. Tickets £10-£65. Londonist saw this production on a complimentary ticket.

Last Updated 18 September 2015

Daniel

The dates in this piece are a bit off, and perpetuate the myth that Franklin was robbed of the Nobel.

She died in 1958, not 1953. And Crick, Watson, and Wilkins won their Nobel in 1962, not 1953.