Photograph 51 (play)

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Photograph 51
Written byAnna Ziegler
Date premiered5 September 2015
Place premieredNoël Coward Theatre
Original languageEnglish
SettingKing's College London

Photograph 51 is a play by Anna Ziegler. Photograph 51 opened in the West End of London in September 2015.[1] The play focuses on the often-overlooked role of X-ray crystallographer Rosalind Franklin in the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA while working at King's College London.[2][3] This play won the third STAGE International Script Competition in 2008.[4] The title comes from Photo 51, the nickname given to an X-ray diffraction image taken by Raymond Gosling in May, 1952, under the supervision of Rosalind Franklin.[5] The one-act play runs for 95-minutes with no intermission.

Photograph 51 was commissioned, developed, and given its world premiere under the direction of Mary Resing by Active Cultures Theatre in Maryland in 2008. That year, it also won the 2008 STAGE (Scientists, Technologists and Artists Generating Exploration) International script competition for Best New Play. Photograph 51 had subsequent productions at The Fountain Theatre in Los Angeles, Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York, Theater J in Washington DC, Seattle Repertory Theatre in Seattle, amongst many others,[6] then in London's Noël Coward Theatre, in the West End, directed by Michael Grandage.[7]


The original cast of the London play:[8]

Critical response[edit]

Michael Billington of The Guardian wrote that "Nicole Kidman captures the ecstasy of scientific discovery".... "Anna Ziegler's new play asserts the contribution of 1950s chemist Rosalind Franklin to the discovery of DNA and asks: is science still sexist?."[9]

Ben Brantley of The New York Times wrote that "When Nicole Kidman steps out of the shadows, breaking off from a wall of men, and onto the edge of the stage at the Noël Coward Theatre...her eyes beam undiluted willpower. It is a gaze that both chills and warms, radiating and demanding trust in this singularly self-possessed presence..... Yes, the script makes its concessions to romantic conventions.... Photograph 51 sustains crisp dramatic tension even when it skirts banality or expository tedium. And Ms Kidman, who turns Franklin's guardedness into as much a revelation as a concealment of character, is pretty close to perfection."[10]

Paul Taylor of The Independent wrote that "In her compelling and subtle performance, Kidman beautifully captures the prickly defensiveness, the lonely dedication, and the suppressed emotional longings of the scientist.... Michael Grandage's superb 91-minute production expertly balances its energies as detective thriller and as interactive speculation about the hovering moments where her life could have taken a different turning."[11]

Stephen Dalton of The Hollywood Reporter wrote that "...Ziegler's play is essentially a middling blend of straight bio-drama and high-school science lesson. Without Kidman's marquee appeal, it would have been an unusually dowdy choice for the West End. Fortunately, Kidman delivers." "[H]er performance is muted but reliably intense, hinting at wounded depths beneath Franklin's implacably chilly exterior....Grandage's production is a worthy effort, but a little passionless, inherently limited in dramatic force by its subject matter."[12]

Dominic Cavendish of The Daily Telegraph gave the play four out of five stars, writing that "...Kidman brilliantly suggests an intelligent woman compacted of porcelain and steel. Being no-nonsense, she's often funny. An early put-down – 'I don't joke' – gets a laugh but lays bare her peculiarity too." and "Although the supporting male performances suffer from scantily written roles, Grandage directs it all with characteristically fluid aplomb, placing the action (sometimes using neat, quasi-scientific symmetries) amid a towering set by Christopher Oram that evokes the bombed-out Palladian magnificence of King's, piles of rubble lapping at arches. The effect is part bunker, part grand signifier of civilisation and the building blocks of life, and part tomb too. Neil Austin's forensic lighting, cutting through clouds of haze, sees to it that as Edward Bennett and Will Attenborough's Crick and Watson finally unravel a secret held from mankind for millennia, all hint of rosiness in Rosalind's face vanishes, a deathly pallor taking its stead. Can one image tell us almost everything? Yes, it can. A triumph."[13]

Henry Hitchings of Evening Standard gave the play four out of five stars, writing that "This isn't an obvious star vehicle, and there's certainly plenty for those around Kidman to get their teeth into in Michael Grandage's smartly paced production. Edward Bennett and Will Attenborough combine vigorously as Francis Crick and James Watson, whose names are today synonymous with scientific sleuthing, and Stephen Campbell Moore brings just the right degree of donnish clumsiness to Maurice Wilkins, who shared their Nobel Prize in 1962 (four years after Franklin's untimely death). Only the American researcher Don Caspar (the excellent Patrick Kennedy) seems capable of treating her as a person rather than an obstacle. Still, it's Kidman's finely poised performance that underpins this vision of intensely entwined but separate lives. She captures the obsessive nature of a woman dismissed by Watson as being “sticky” and having an “acid smile”, while suggesting the complexity beneath her severe façade – an inspiring mix of passion, pride and vulnerability."[14]

Ian Shuttleworth of FT wrote that "Kidman was last seen on the London stage in David Hare's The Blue Room in 1998. This time her kit remains on, and dowdy: Franklin has eyes only for her X-ray crystallography work on DNA at King's College, London, without which Crick and Watson over in Cambridge would almost certainly not have cracked the secret of the double helix. In Michael Grandage's production, Kidman manages to animate the cold fish Franklin; her features are fluidly though not hugely mobile."[15]

Michael Arditti of Express gave it four stars, commenting that Rosalind Franklin refused to elicit sympathy from her colleagues, and it is to Kidman's credit that she refuses to elicit it from her audience. Like her character, she focuses on the intellectual, which makes her two moments of self-revelation all the more powerful.".[16]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Nominee Result
2015 Evening Standard Theatre Award[17] Best Actress Nicole Kidman Won
Harper's Bazaar Women of the Year Award[18] Theatre Icon Nicole Kidman Won
2016 Laurence Olivier Award[19] Best Actress Nicole Kidman Nominated
WhatsOnStage Award[20] Best New Play Won
Best Actress in a Play Nicole Kidman Won


  1. ^ Furness, Hannah (6 September 2015). "Nicole Kidman: standing ovation as fans flock to Photograph 51". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 30 October 2015.
  2. ^ Kuchment, Anna (January 2011), "For Whom the Nobel Tolls: An evening out with James Watson and colleagues", Scientific American, Nature America, vol. 304, no. 1, p. 27, doi:10.1038/scientificamerican0111-27
  3. ^ Cox, Gordon (23 April 2015). "Nicole Kidman to Star on West End in Photograph 51". Variety. Retrieved 25 August 2015.
  4. ^ "Ziegler's Photograph 51 Wins STAGE International Script Competition". American Theater Web News. 5 August 2008. Archived from the original on 27 September 2015. Retrieved 25 August 2015.
  5. ^ "Due credit". Nature. 496 (7445): 270. 18 April 2013. doi:10.1038/496270a. PMID 23607133.
  6. ^ "Anna Ziegler". Anna Ziegler. Retrieved 21 October 2015.
  7. ^ Sherwin, A. (2015, September 9). "Photograph 51, homenaje a mi padre y a otros científicos reconocidos": Arrojar luz sobre la desigualdad para las mujeres en ese ámbito, otra razón: Kidman. La Jornada, p. 9a, La Jornada de enmedio, Espectáculos, Sp. trans. Jorge Anaya.
  8. ^ Noël Coward Theatre (3 October 2015). "Nicole Kidman: standing ovation as fans flock to Photograph 51". London. Retrieved 3 October 2015.
  9. ^ Billington, Michael (14 September 2015). "Photograph 51 review". The Guardian. London: Guardian News and Media. Retrieved 2 October 2015.
  10. ^ Brantley, Ben (14 September 2015). "Review: In Photograph 51, Nicole Kidman is a Steely DNA Scientist". The New York Times. New York. Retrieved 2 October 2015.
  11. ^ Taylor, Paul (15 September 2015). "Photograph 51, Noël Coward Theatre, review: Nicole Kidman gives a compelling performance". The Independent. London: The Independent. Archived from the original on 26 May 2022. Retrieved 2 October 2015.
  12. ^ Dalton, Stephen (14 September 2015). "Photograph 51: Theatre Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Los Angeles: The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 3 October 2015.
  13. ^ Cavendish, Dominic (14 September 2015). "Photograph 51, Noël Coward Theatre, review: 'Kidman holds us in thrall'". The Telegraph. London: The Telegraph. Retrieved 3 October 2015.
  14. ^ Hitchings, Henry (15 September 2015). "Photograph 51 review: Nicole Kidman gives a finely poised performance". London Evening Standard. London: Evening Standard. Retrieved 3 October 2015.
  15. ^ Shuttleworth, Ian (15 September 2015). "Photograph 51, Noël Coward Theatre, London – review". Financial Times. London. Retrieved 27 October 2015.
  16. ^ Arditti, Michael (20 September 2015). "Theatre reviews: Photograph 51, Future Conditional and Kinky Boots". Daily Express. London: Daily Express. Retrieved 27 October 2015.
  17. ^ Awards, Evening Standard Theatre (23 November 2015). "Evening Standard Theatre Awards: Who won and why". Retrieved 22 April 2021.
  18. ^ Foster, Alistair (4 November 2015). "Nicole Kidman gets emotional after being named theatre icon at Harper's Bazaar Women Of The Year Awards". Evening Standard. Retrieved 5 November 2015.
  19. ^ "Olivier Winners 2016". Olivier Awards. Retrieved 22 April 2021.
  20. ^ "Benedict Cumberbatch's Hamlet takes quartet at WhatsOnStage awards". the Guardian. 21 February 2016. Retrieved 22 April 2021.