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article imageReview: Nicole Kidman is outstanding on the London stage Special

By Tim Sandle     Sep 26, 2015 in Entertainment
London - Nicole Kidman is starring in a play in London called 'Photograph 51.' It is about the discovery of the mystery of DNA and it seeks to place a woman, Rosalind Franklin, back in the center of the discovery.
Photograph 51 is a play by Anna Ziegler, premiering at the Noel Coward theater in London's West End. The play is set in 1951 and is about the image that solved the riddle of DNA. This is based on one X-ray diffraction image of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), numbered 51.
The Noël Coward Theatre a West End theatre on St. Martin s Lane in the City of Westminster  London....
The Noël Coward Theatre a West End theatre on St. Martin's Lane in the City of Westminster, London. It opened on 12 March 1903. It is shown here featuring the play Photograph 51.
Nicole Kidman plays Rosalind Franklin, one of the four people now credited with unveiling the structure of DNA. Franklin's place in history was at first downgraded and even now relatively obscure. This is despite King's College London opening the Franklin-Wilkins Building in honor of Dr. Franklin's and Professor Wilkins' work at the college in the year 2000.
The cast list for the 2015 production of Photograph 51.
The cast list for the 2015 production of Photograph 51.
Franklin, along with her assistant Raymond Gosling, took the photograph that revealed the structure of DNA as a double helix, thereby unlocking the genetic code. Franklin, who worked alongside Maurice Wilkins, did not immediately act on the photograph, preferring to take her time verifying it and considering its meaning.
The basis to uncovering the inner workings of DNA relates to James Watson, based at Cambridge University being shown the photograph by Maurice Wilkins, of King's College London, without Rosalind Franklin's approval or knowledge. Watson took the photograph to his mentor and collaborator Francis Crick and together they used the characteristics and features of Photograph #51 to develop the chemical model of DNA molecule. Watson and Crick went onto publish a seminal paper in 1953 in the journal Nature.
Photo 51 is the nickname given to an X-ray diffraction image of DNA. This picture is taken from the ...
Photo 51 is the nickname given to an X-ray diffraction image of DNA. This picture is taken from the program for the play running in London in 2015.
The play has the actor playing Watson quote a line from the scientist's own memoirs: "The instant I saw the photograph my mouth fell open and my pulse began to race," capturing just how significant the X-ray is.
In 1962 Watson, Crick and Wilkins were awarded the Nobel Prize. The prize was not awarded to Franklin. The scientist had died four years earlier of ovarian cancer.
This may come across, while important, as a little dry. It isn't. The play is dramatic, well-acted, and the story unfolds and moves along with dynamic intensity. The play solidly illuminates many of the key issues of how science was and is conducted.
The foyer of the Noel Coward Theater  for the play Photograph 51.
The foyer of the Noel Coward Theater, for the play Photograph 51.
The set is simple, taken place in the still recent aftermath of post-World War II London, centered at King's College. The set is imposing and blackened, partly formed of rubble.
The audience begins to settle  ready for Photograph 51 featuring Nicole Kidman.
The audience begins to settle, ready for Photograph 51 featuring Nicole Kidman.
The characteristics of the main protagonists are varied. Wilkins and Crick are '50s British — well-mannered, sexually repressed, and awkward. "Stiff" would be a suitable pejorative. Watson is portrayed as brash, but also calculating, more focused on claiming the "glory" (and wealth) that his paper will bring than with the scientific discovery and its future possibilities in itself. There is also an underlying tone of anti-Semitism to his comments towards Franklin. How accurate this is, I'm sure, open to debate. However, given some of Watson's comments later in life about a genetic basis to "race," then there could be an element of truth to his apparent prejudices.
The period the play is set in is brought to the fore on a number of occasions. Wilkins exits stage to go for lunch, in an area of King's College where women are not allowed. Throughout women, like Franklin, who hold PhDs are referred to a "Miss" whereas men are permitted the title of "Doctor."
Is there an underlying message within the play? Other than redressing historical inaccuracy, there is a strong message about how the contribution of women can sometimes be written out of history. There is also something there about procrastination versus action. At times it is good to pause, wait and reflect; but seeking absolute certainty can sometimes leave one on the side lines. Had Franklin acted earlier, then it might not have been Watson and Crick who took the credit for the secrets of DNA.
The program for Photograph 51  featuring Nicole Kimdan.
The program for Photograph 51, featuring Nicole Kimdan.
The play is well-acted, dramatic and punchy. It runs for 95 minutes without an interval, which is wise. A pause would break the dramatic tension. The star is undoubtedly Nicole Kidman. Here she may be dressed in '50s monochrome, with her hair bunched up, and speaking in crisp English tones. But she lights up the stage with a strong performance and received a much deserved standing ovation at the end.
Digital Journal rating: 5 out of 5.
Digital Journal s ticket stub for Photograph 51.
Digital Journal's ticket stub for Photograph 51.
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