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Photograph 51

Published 15 September 2015

What’s it all about?

A woman whose name isn’t remembered as much as it should be.

Rosalind Franklin took the X-ray image of a DNA molecule – Photograph 51 – that led fellow scientists James Watson and Francis Crick to prove its double helix structure. Watson and Crick later became Nobel Prize winners; Franklin, unrecognised, died of Ovarian cancer aged 37.

Anna Ziegler’s play follows Franklin, portrayed here as a determined female character fighting for recognition in a male-dominated world, as she strives to discover ‘the secret of life’. Little does she know that her vital photograph has fallen into the hands of her Cambridge-based rivals.

Who’s in it?

Are you Kid(man)ing? Everyone in Theatreland knows who’s leading this highly anticipated UK premiere.

Nicole Kidman is compelling as the driven woman whose research led to one of the most significant scientific discoveries of the 20th century. She captures Franklin’s rigid defensiveness and personal frostiness, her defiant independence and studious solitude, in a performance that will make audiences wish she hadn’t waited more than 15 years to return to the London stage.

But Kidman isn’t the only star of this superbly presented show. Stephen Campbell Moore is excellent as her awkward try-hard superior Maurice Wilkins, Will Attenborough exudes passionate energy as the ever so slightly arrogant Watson and Edward Bennett is an amusingly posh Crick.

What should I look out for?

Kidman, obviously. Her performance is sublime. But also…

Christopher Oram’s striking set, a post-war crumbling King’s College that provides a startling juxtaposition to the cutting edge science being conducted within its walls.

Attenborough’s crazily coiffured locks. Watson’s hair is to science (and theatre) what Jedward’s quiff was to X Factor.

Who was in the press night crowd?

Dawn French, who Michael Grandage is directing in 30 Million Minutes later this year, was there to see the director’s latest offering. We also spotted forthcoming Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company member Derek Jacobi and previous Grandage collaborator David Walliams.

In a nutshell?

Nicole Kidman gives a performance as meticulous as her character’s scientific methods and as natural as the molecular structure she’s striving to discover in the UK premiere of Anna Ziegler’s DNA drama.

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Will I like it?

This is not the most action-packed play the West End has ever seen, but what Photograph 51 lacks in fast-paced proceedings it more than makes up for in structure, as the characters’ articulation of letters combines with narration and dialogue to create an intriguing and complex piece of theatre.

Obviously, for Kidman fans and anyone who appreciates excellent stage performances Photograph 51 is an absolute treat that – and this may be the most scientific pun you’ll ever get out of us – you’ve just GATA see!

Photograph 51 is playing at the Noël Coward Theatre until 21 November. You can book tickets through us.


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