Photograph 51 (play)
|Written by||Anna Ziegler|
|Date premiered||5 September 2015|
|Place premiered||Noël Coward Theatre|
|Setting||King's College London|
Photograph 51 is an award-winning play by Anna Ziegler. Photograph 51 opened in the West End of London in September 2015. 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. This play won the third STAGE International Script Competition in 2008. 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. The one-act play runs for 95-minutes with no intermission.
The play premiered in the United States (where it was produced at Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York, Theater J in Washington DC, Seattle Repertory Theatre in Seattle, amongst many others), then in London's Noël Coward Theatre, in the West End, directed by Michael Grandage.
The original cast of the London play:
- Nicole Kidman as Rosalind Franklin
- Stephen Campbell Moore as Maurice Wilkins
- Edward Bennett as Francis Crick
- Will Attenborough as James Watson
- Patrick Kennedy as Donald Caspar
- Joshua Silver as Raymond Gosling
This article contains too many or too-lengthy quotations for an encyclopedic entry. (October 2016)
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?."
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."
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." 
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." 
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." 
Quentin Letts of Daily Mail gave the play four out of five stars, writing that "Science is not easy to portray on stage but Michael Grandage's fluent direction and Nicole Kidman's stellar control make Photograph 51 – a play about microscopic images of DNA – a gripping, if slightly frosty affair. This show clicks like the shutter of a hi-tech laboratory camera. Its picture is clear, detailed, ambitious; a little stark and negative in places, too, though. Miss Kidman has the willowy looks of the young Queen Elizabeth II. Aged 48, she just about passes for this 30-something scientist. She is not quite dark enough for Franklin and I could have done with her making this devoted scientist a little less detached. She could do with some of Mr Attenborough's animation. Franklin was a brave, brilliant Jewish intellectual. Miss Kidman makes her more like something out of Brief Encounter or Rattigan at his most repressed. There is complete confidence about her on stage. We need never worry that she is not entirely consumed by the role."
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."
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."
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.".
Awards and nominations
West End production
|2015||Harper's Bazaar Women of the Year Awards||Theatre Icon Award||Nicole Kidman||Won|
|2015||Evening Standard Theatre Awards||Best Actress Award||Nicole Kidman||Won|
|2016||WhatsOnStage Awards||Best Actress in a Play||Nicole Kidman||Won|
|2016||WhatsOnStage Awards||Best New Play||Photograph 51||Won|
|2016||Laurence Olivier Awards||Best Actress||Nicole Kidman||Nominated|
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- Arditti, Michael (20 September 2015). "Theatre reviews: Photograph 51, Future Conditional and Kinky Boots". Daily Express. London: Daily Express. Retrieved 27 October 2015.
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