Nicole Kidman has officially returned to London’s West End. The talk and expectation is over and the Hollywood star is treading the boards on a nightly basis in Photograph 51 at the Noël Coward Theatre.
The last time she appeared in London, Kidman, an Oscar, Golden Globe and BAFTA winning actress, provided the inspiration for the phrase “pure theatrical Viagra”, one of the most quoted and memorable to be taken from a theatre critic in recent times. Expectations, it is fair to say, are high.
Yet in person Kidman, as luminous and gaze-holding as she may be, does not dominate a room. She cuts a conservative, demure figure, happy to fade into the background and stay out of the limelight rather than grab the attention.
Possibly her character is rubbing off on her. In Photograph 51 she plays Rosalind Franklin, the research scientist whose work was key to cracking DNA, but who has since faded into obscurity in relation to Nobel Prize winners Watson and Crick.
She, according to Kidman, was a quieter soul; one of the reasons her name has not been lauded for a discovery the big screen star likens to having the impact discovering life on another planet would have today.
While the quality of Anna Ziegler’s play and the chance to work with director Michael Grandage had much to do with Kidman’s stage return, the play spoke to her on a very personal level, as she told Official London Theatre:
My father was a biochemist. As a kid my parents both worked, so I would have to go to the laboratory and wait for him. He would be in his lab coat and my sister and I would be given test tubes and microscopes to play with. That was their way to keep us entertained.
My father was Dr Kidman. People would say to me “Is your Dad a medical doctor?” I had to learn very early on as a young child to say “No, he’s a research doctor. He’s doing research into muscular dystrophy.” That was not impressive. Even then as a child I saw the way in which that is not honoured in the same regard. It would have been far more impressive if I’d said he was a brain surgeon.
There is still an enormous amount of inequality, particularly for women. I think part of the reason to do this play is to put a spotlight on that. At the same time I think it goes even deeper than gender, it’s someone who contributes on a level where they’ve not – male or female – an extrovert; they’re not someone that’s out there selling their goods so to speak, saying “Look at me.” They’re quiet and methodical, a brilliant person, but they contribute quietly, and the idea of acknowledging that, it takes other people to do that, to champion those people.
It’s an extraordinary role for a woman in the theatre. As an actress you go “What a wonderful thing to have your daughters come and see you in a play about a woman.” That propelled me into doing it. It would have been easy to stay at home in Nashville and read reviews of somebody else doing this play, but I wanted to push myself and I wanted to support the theatre.
I wanted to come back to London because my memory of London was so good. I feel very at home here. Obviously being Australian there’s a link to this country. I did The Blue Room and I know a lot of the theatre community here. I thought “If I don’t do it now I’ll never do it, so I just had to push myself.”
I don’t see myself as ‘Hollywood’. I don’t see that. I see myself as an actor coming and trying something and hoping it will work. I’m part of the group of actors in the play.
You go out there and for a moment think “Everyone’s against us”, but actually they’re all here because they want to see a play. That’s really beautiful. just knowing everyone’s parked their car, caught the tube, whatever it is to get to the play. We just want to be up there giving them a good show.
I think the nerves get more as you get older. I’d love to say they get less, but they don’t. That rush of adrenaline; it’s an extreme feeling. I haven’t had that immediacy with an audience for some time. To not have that for so long, it’s like being starved.
My father passed away last year, September 12, which is Saturday night, when we’ll be doing the play. This is my way of acknowledging him but also acknowledging those people in this field who quietly go about their work and aren’t acknowledged a lot of the time. I’d like to think he’s somewhere offering support.
Photograph 51 plays at the Noël Coward Theatre until 21 November. You can book tickets through us here.
"It’s an extraordinary role for a woman in the theatre. As an actress you go 'What a wonderful thing to have your daughters come and see you in a play about a woman.'"